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Magnetic seizure therapy (MST), despite being in an early phase of clinical research, has been demonstrated to be associated with antidepressant efficacy. However, safety, tolerability and efficacy data in connection with functional brain activity from larger samples are lacking. The aim of this study was to determine clinical and cognitive effects of MST and the influence of MST on regional brain glucose metabolism.
Twenty-six patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression (TRD) underwent MST. Ten patients underwent a randomized trial and 16 patients an open-label study design. The primary outcome criterion was the severity of depressive symptoms assessed with the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD). Depressive symptoms, tolerability and cognitive safety, along with social functioning and quality of life parameters, were assessed using various rating scales. A clinical follow-up visit 6 months following the completion of a course of MST and [18F]-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) scans of 12 patients were analysed.
A significant response to MST was demonstrated by 69% of the patient sample, with 46% meeting remission criteria. Anxiety ratings were significantly reduced in responders and their quality of life was improved. Half of the responders relapsed within 6 months. No cognitive side-effects were observed. FDG-PET scans showed a metabolic increase in the frontal cortex bilaterally and a decrease in the left striatum.
Robust antidepressant and anti-anxiety efficacy of MST was demonstrated, and found to be associated with localized metabolic changes in brain areas that are strongly implicated in depression. Thus, MST presents an effective, well-tolerated and safe treatment option for patients unable to respond to other forms of therapy for depression.
Current rodent models emphasize the joint action of the stress mediators noradrenaline (NE) and cortisol (CORT) in conferring a memory advantage of emotional over neutral stimuli.
Using a pharmacological strategy of tackling this stress-related mechanism to enhance human episodic (autobiographical) memory, we measured amygdala-hippocampal responses during encoding of emotional and neutral stimuli with functional magnetic resonance imaging in 51 healthy subjects under four pharmacological conditions in a double-blind parallel group design: (i) placebo; (ii) the NE-reuptake inhibitor reboxetine (4 mg); (iii) hydrocortisone (synthetic CORT) (30 mg); or (iv) both agents in combination.
Differential drug effects were found in the left hippocampus, whereas hydrocortisone alone selectively decreased hippocampal responses to emotional relative to neutral stimuli, reboxetine potentiated hippocampal responses to these stimuli. Importantly, the inhibitory influence of hydrocortisone was reversed by co-administration of reboxetine.
Our results imply that stress levels of CORT alone attenuate hippocampal responses to emotional stimuli, an effect possibly related to a regulatory negative feedback loop. However, when simultaneously elevated to stress levels, NE and CORT act together to synergistically enhance hippocampal activity during encoding of emotional stimuli, a mechanism that may turn maladaptive under circumstances of traumatic stress.
Animal models of anxiety disorders emphasize the crucial role of locus ceruleus–noradrenergic (norepinephrine, NE) signaling, the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and their interactions in the expression of anxiety-like behavioral responses to stress. Despite clinical evidence for the efficacy of a β-noradrenergic receptor blockade with propranolol in the alleviation of anxiety symptoms and the secondary prevention of post traumatic stress disorder, preclinical evidence for a β-noradrenergic modulation of BLA activity in humans is missing.
We combined functional magnetic resonance imaging in healthy volunteers with probabilistic mapping of intra-amygdalar responses to fearful, neutral and happy facial expressions to test the hypothesis that a β-noradrenergic receptor blockade with propranolol would inactivate the BLA.
Consistent with our a priori hypothesis, propranolol diminished BLA responses to facial expressions, independent of their emotional valence. The absence of activity changes in probabilistically defined visual control regions underscores the specific action of propranolol in the BLA.
Our findings provide the missing link between the anxiolytic potential of propranolol and the biological basis of β-noradrenergic activation in the human BLA as a key target for the pharmacological inhibition of anxiety neurocircuitry. Moreover, our findings add to emerging evidence that NE modulates both the reactivity (sensitivity) and the operating characteristics (specificity) of the BLA via β-noradrenergic receptors.
Verbal learning and memory deficits are frequent among patients with schizophrenia and correlate with reduced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) volumes of the hippocampus in these patients. A crucial question is the extent to which interrelated structural-functional deficits of the hippocampus reflect a vulnerability to schizophrenia, as opposed to the disorder per se.
We combined brain structural measures and the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) to assess hippocampal structure and function in 36 never-medicated individuals suspected to be in early (EPS) or late prodromal states (LPS) of schizophrenia relative to 30 healthy controls.
Group comparisons revealed bilaterally reduced MRI hippocampal volumes in both EPS and LPS subjects. In LPS subjects but not in EPS subjects, these reductions were correlated with poorer performance in RAVLT delayed recall.
Our findings suggest progressive and interrelated structural-functional pathology of the hippocampus, as prodromal symptoms and behaviours accumulate, and the level of risk for psychosis increases. Given the inverse correlation of learning and memory deficits with social and vocational functioning in established schizophrenia, our findings substantiate the rationale for developing preventive treatment strategies that maintain cognitive capacities in the at-risk mental state.
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