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Cognitive dysfunction and brain structural connectivity alterations have been observed in major depressive disorder (MDD). However, little is known about their interrelation. The present study follows a network approach to evaluate alterations in cognition-related brain structural networks.
Cognitive performance of n = 805 healthy and n = 679 acutely depressed or remitted individuals was assessed using 14 cognitive tests aggregated into cognitive factors. The structural connectome was reconstructed from structural and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging. Associations between global connectivity strength and cognitive factors were established using linear regressions. Network-based statistics were applied to identify subnetworks of connections underlying these global-level associations. In exploratory analyses, effects of depression were assessed by evaluating remission status-related group differences in subnetwork-specific connectivity. Partial correlations were employed to directly test the complete triad of cognitive factors, depressive symptom severity, and subnetwork-specific connectivity strength.
All cognitive factors were associated with global connectivity strength. For each cognitive factor, network-based statistics identified a subnetwork of connections, revealing, for example, a subnetwork positively associated with processing speed. Within that subnetwork, acutely depressed patients showed significantly reduced connectivity strength compared to healthy controls. Moreover, connectivity strength in that subnetwork was associated to current depressive symptom severity independent of the previous disease course.
Our study is the first to identify cognition-related structural brain networks in MDD patients, thereby revealing associations between cognitive deficits, depressive symptoms, and reduced structural connectivity. This supports the hypothesis that structural connectome alterations may mediate the association of cognitive deficits and depression severity.
Childhood maltreatment (CM) represents a potent risk factor for major depressive disorder (MDD), including poorer treatment response. Altered resting-state connectivity in the fronto-limbic system has been reported in maltreated individuals. However, previous results in smaller samples differ largely regarding localization and direction of effects.
We included healthy and depressed samples [n = 624 participants with MDD; n = 701 healthy control (HC) participants] that underwent resting-state functional MRI measurements and provided retrospective self-reports of maltreatment using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. A-priori defined regions of interest [ROI; amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)] were used to calculate seed-to-voxel connectivities.
No significant associations between maltreatment and resting-state connectivity of any ROI were found across MDD and HC participants and no interaction effect with diagnosis became significant. Investigating MDD patients only yielded maltreatment-associated increased connectivity between the amygdala and dorsolateral frontal areas [pFDR < 0.001; η2partial = 0.050; 95%-CI (0.023–0.085)]. This effect was robust across various sensitivity analyses and was associated with concurrent and previous symptom severity. Particularly strong amygdala-frontal associations with maltreatment were observed in acutely depressed individuals [n = 264; pFDR < 0.001; η2partial = 0.091; 95%-CI (0.038–0.166)). Weaker evidence – not surviving correction for multiple ROI analyses – was found for altered supracallosal ACC connectivity in HC individuals associated with maltreatment.
The majority of previous resting-state connectivity correlates of CM could not be replicated in this large-scale study. The strongest evidence was found for clinically relevant maltreatment associations with altered adult amygdala-dorsolateral frontal connectivity in depression. Future studies should explore the relevance of this pathway for a maltreated subgroup of MDD patients.
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