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Two prominent risk factors for major depressive disorder (MDD) are childhood maltreatment (CM) and familial risk for MDD. Despite having these risk factors, there are individuals who maintain mental health, i.e. are resilient, whereas others develop MDD. It is unclear which brain morphological alterations are associated with this kind of resilience. Interaction analyses of risk and diagnosis status are needed that can account for complex adaptation processes, to identify neural correlates of resilience.
We analyzed brain structural data (3T magnetic resonance imaging) by means of voxel-based morphometry (CAT12 toolbox), using a 2 × 2 design, comparing four groups (N = 804) that differed in diagnosis (healthy v. MDD) and risk profiles (low-risk, i.e. absence of CM and familial risk v. high-risk, i.e. presence of both CM and familial risk). Using regions of interest (ROIs) from the literature, we conducted an interaction analysis of risk and diagnosis status.
Volume in the left middle frontal gyrus (MFG), part of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), was significantly higher in healthy high-risk individuals. There were no significant results for the bilateral superior frontal gyri, frontal poles, pars orbitalis of the inferior frontal gyri, and the right MFG.
The healthy high-risk group had significantly higher volumes in the left DLPFC compared to all other groups. The DLPFC is implicated in cognitive and emotional processes, and higher volume in this area might aid high-risk individuals in adaptive coping in order to maintain mental health. This increased volume might therefore constitute a neural correlate of resilience to MDD in high risk.
MRI-derived cortical folding measures are an indicator of largely genetically driven early developmental processes. However, the effects of genetic risk for major mental disorders on early brain development are not well understood.
We extracted cortical complexity values from structural MRI data of 580 healthy participants using the CAT12 toolbox. Polygenic risk scores (PRS) for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and cross-disorder (incorporating cumulative genetic risk for depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) were computed and used in separate general linear models with cortical complexity as the regressand. In brain regions that showed a significant association between polygenic risk for mental disorders and cortical complexity, volume of interest (VOI)/region of interest (ROI) analyses were conducted to investigate additional changes in their volume and cortical thickness.
The PRS for depression was associated with cortical complexity in the right orbitofrontal cortex (right hemisphere: p = 0.006). A subsequent VOI/ROI analysis showed no association between polygenic risk for depression and either grey matter volume or cortical thickness. We found no associations between cortical complexity and polygenic risk for either schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychiatric cross-disorder when correcting for multiple testing.
Changes in cortical complexity associated with polygenic risk for depression might facilitate well-established volume changes in orbitofrontal cortices in depression. Despite the absence of psychopathology, changed cortical complexity that parallels polygenic risk for depression might also change reward systems, which are also structurally affected in patients with depressive syndrome.
Eighty percent of all patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) relapse at least once in their lifetime. Thus, understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of the course of MDD is of utmost importance. A detrimental course of illness in MDD was most consistently associated with superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) fiber integrity. As similar associations were, however, found between SLF fiber integrity and acute symptomatology, this study attempts to disentangle associations attributed to current depression from long-term course of illness.
A total of 531 patients suffering from acute (N = 250) or remitted (N = 281) MDD from the FOR2107-cohort were analyzed in this cross-sectional study using tract-based spatial statistics for diffusion tensor imaging. First, the effects of disease state (acute v. remitted), current symptom severity (BDI-score) and course of illness (number of hospitalizations) on fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), radial diffusivity (RD), and axial diffusivity were analyzed separately. Second, disease state and BDI-scores were analyzed in conjunction with the number of hospitalizations to disentangle their effects.
Disease state (pFWE < 0.042) and number of hospitalizations (pFWE< 0.032) were associated with decreased FA and increased MD and RD in the bilateral SLF. A trend was found for the BDI-score (pFWE > 0.067). When analyzed simultaneously only the effect of course of illness remained significant (pFWE < 0.040) mapping to the right SLF.
Decreased FA and increased MD and RD values in the SLF are associated with more hospitalizations when controlling for current psychopathology. SLF fiber integrity could reflect cumulative illness burden at a neurobiological level and should be targeted in future longitudinal analyses.
Subclinical psychotic-like experiences (PLE), resembling key symptoms of psychotic disorders, are common throughout the general population and possibly associated with psychosis risk. There is evidence that such symptoms are also associated with structural brain changes.
In 672 healthy individuals, we assessed PLE and associated distress with the symptom-checklist-90R (SCL-90R) scales ‘schizotypal signs’ (STS) and ‘schizophrenia nuclear symptoms’ (SNS) and analysed associations with voxel- and surfaced-based brain structural parameters derived from structural magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T with CAT12.
For SNS, we found a positive correlation with the volume in the left superior parietal lobule and the precuneus, and a negative correlation with the volume in the right inferior temporal gyrus [p < 0.05 cluster-level Family Wise Error (FWE-corrected]. For STS, we found a negative correlation with the volume of the left and right precentral gyrus (p < 0.05 cluster-level FWE-corrected). Surface-based analyses did not detect any significant clusters with the chosen statistical threshold of p < 0.05. However, in exploratory analyses (p < 0.001, uncorrected), we found a positive correlation of SNS with gyrification in the left insula and rostral middle frontal gyrus and of STS with the left precuneus and insula, as well as a negative correlation of STS with gyrification in the left temporal pole.
Our results show that brain structures in areas implicated in schizophrenia are also related to PLE and its associated distress in healthy individuals. This pattern supports a dimensional model of the neural correlates of symptoms of the psychotic spectrum.
Positive symptoms are a useful predictor of aggression in schizophrenia. Although a similar pattern of abnormal brain structures related to both positive symptoms and aggression has been reported, this observation has not yet been confirmed in a single sample.
To study the association between positive symptoms and aggression in schizophrenia on a neurobiological level, a prospective meta-analytic approach was employed to analyze harmonized structural neuroimaging data from 10 research centers worldwide. We analyzed brain MRI scans from 902 individuals with a primary diagnosis of schizophrenia and 952 healthy controls.
The result identified a widespread cortical thickness reduction in schizophrenia compared to their controls. Two separate meta-regression analyses revealed that a common pattern of reduced cortical gray matter thickness within the left lateral temporal lobe and right midcingulate cortex was significantly associated with both positive symptoms and aggression.
These findings suggested that positive symptoms such as formal thought disorder and auditory misperception, combined with cognitive impairments reflecting difficulties in deploying an adaptive control toward perceived threats, could escalate the likelihood of aggression in schizophrenia.
Childhood maltreatment (CM) plays an important role in the development of major depressive disorder (MDD). The aim of this study was to examine whether CM severity and type are associated with MDD-related brain alterations, and how they interact with sex and age.
Within the ENIGMA-MDD network, severity and subtypes of CM using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire were assessed and structural magnetic resonance imaging data from patients with MDD and healthy controls were analyzed in a mega-analysis comprising a total of 3872 participants aged between 13 and 89 years. Cortical thickness and surface area were extracted at each site using FreeSurfer.
CM severity was associated with reduced cortical thickness in the banks of the superior temporal sulcus and supramarginal gyrus as well as with reduced surface area of the middle temporal lobe. Participants reporting both childhood neglect and abuse had a lower cortical thickness in the inferior parietal lobe, middle temporal lobe, and precuneus compared to participants not exposed to CM. In males only, regardless of diagnosis, CM severity was associated with higher cortical thickness of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. Finally, a significant interaction between CM and age in predicting thickness was seen across several prefrontal, temporal, and temporo-parietal regions.
Severity and type of CM may impact cortical thickness and surface area. Importantly, CM may influence age-dependent brain maturation, particularly in regions related to the default mode network, perception, and theory of mind.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a fast-acting intervention for major depressive disorder. Previous studies indicated neurotrophic effects following ECT that might contribute to changes in white matter brain structure. We investigated the influence of ECT in a non-randomized prospective study focusing on white matter changes over time.
Twenty-nine severely depressed patients receiving ECT in addition to inpatient treatment, 69 severely depressed patients with inpatient treatment (NON-ECT) and 52 healthy controls (HC) took part in a non-randomized prospective study. Participants were scanned twice, approximately 6 weeks apart, using diffusion tensor imaging, applying tract-based spatial statistics. Additional correlational analyses were conducted in the ECT subsample to investigate the effects of seizure duration and therapeutic response.
Mean diffusivity (MD) increased after ECT in the right hemisphere, which was an ECT-group-specific effect. Seizure duration was associated with decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) following ECT. Longitudinal changes in ECT were not associated with therapy response. However, within the ECT group only, baseline FA was positively and MD negatively associated with post-ECT symptomatology.
Our data suggest that ECT changes white matter integrity, possibly reflecting increased permeability of the blood–brain barrier, resulting in disturbed communication of fibers. Further, baseline diffusion metrics were associated with therapy response. Coherent fiber structure could be a prerequisite for a generalized seizure and inhibitory brain signaling necessary to successfully inhibit increased seizure activity.
Patients with major depression show reduced hippocampal volume compared to healthy controls. However, the contribution of patients’ cumulative illness severity to hippocampal volume has rarely been investigated. It was the aim of our study to find a composite score of cumulative illness severity that is associated with hippocampal volume in depression.
We estimated hippocampal gray matter volume using 3-tesla brain magnetic resonance imaging in 213 inpatients with acute major depression according to DSM-IV criteria (employing the SCID interview) and 213 healthy controls. Patients’ cumulative illness severity was ascertained by six clinical variables via structured clinical interviews. A principal component analysis was conducted to identify components reflecting cumulative illness severity. Regression analyses and a voxel-based morphometry approach were used to investigate the influence of patients’ individual component scores on hippocampal volume.
Principal component analysis yielded two main components of cumulative illness severity: Hospitalization and Duration of Illness. While the component Hospitalization incorporated information from the intensity of inpatient treatment, the component Duration of Illness was based on the duration and frequency of illness episodes. We could demonstrate a significant inverse association of patients’ Hospitalization component scores with bilateral hippocampal gray matter volume. This relationship was not found for Duration of Illness component scores.
Variables associated with patients’ history of psychiatric hospitalization seem to be accurate predictors of hippocampal volume in major depression and reliable estimators of patients’ cumulative illness severity. Future studies should pay attention to these measures when investigating hippocampal volume changes in major depression.
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