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Previous studies have confirmed that miR-146a-5p overexpression suppresses neurogenesis, thereby enhancing depression-like behaviors. However, it remains unclear how miR-146a-5p dysregulation produces in vivo brain structural abnormalities in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD).
In this case–control study, we combined cortical morphology analysis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and miR-146a-5p quantification to investigate the neuropathological effect of miR-146a-5p on cortical thickness in MDD patients. Serum-derived exosomes that were considered to readily cross the blood-brain barrier and contain miR-146a-5p were isolated for miRNA quantification. Moreover, follow-up MRI scans were performed in the MDD patients after 6 weeks of antidepressant treatment to further validate the clinical relevance of the relationship between miR-146a-5p and brain structural abnormalities.
In total, 113 medication-free MDD patients and 107 matched healthy controls were included. Vertex-vise general linear model revealed miR-146a-5p-dependent cortical thinning in MDD patients compared with healthy individuals, i.e., overexpression of miR-146a-5p was associated with reduced cortical thickness in the left orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral lateral occipital cortices (LOCs), etc. Moreover, this relationship between baseline miR-146a-5p and cortical thinning was nonsignificant for all regions in the patients who had received antidepressant treatment, and higher baseline miR-146a-5p expression was found to be related to greater longitudinal cortical thickening in the left OFC and right LOC.
The findings of this study reveal a relationship between miR-146a-5p overexpression and cortical atrophy and thus may help specify the in vivo mediating effect of miR-146a-5p dysregulation on brain structural abnormalities in patients with MDD.
We hypothesize that the tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) may play a role in disturbing the effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) on the striatal connectivity in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD).
We performed a longitudinal observation by combining resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) and biochemical analyses to identify the abnormal striatal connectivity in MDD patients, and to evaluate the effect of TNF-α level on these abnormal connectivities during SSRI treatment. Eighty-five rs-fMRI scans were collected from 25 MDD patients and 35 healthy controls, and the scans were repeated for all the patients before and after a 6-week SSRI treatment. Whole-brain voxel-wise functional connectivity (FC) was calculated by correlating the rs-fMRI time courses between each voxel and the striatal seeds (i.e. spherical regions placed at the striatums). The level of TNF-α in serum was evaluated by Milliplex assay. Factorial analysis was performed to assess the interaction effects of ‘TNF-α × treatment’ in the regions with between-group FC difference.
Compared with controls, MDD patients showed significantly higher striatal FC in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and bilateral middle/superior temporal cortices before SSRI treatment (p < 0.001, uncorrected). Moreover, a significant interaction effect of ‘TNF-α × treatment’ was found in MPFC-striatum FC in MDD patients (p = 0.002), and the significance remained after adjusted for age, gender, head motion, and episode of disease.
These findings provide evidence that treatment-related brain connectivity change is dependent on the TNF-α level in MDD patients, and the MPFC-striatum connectivities possibly serve as an important target in the brain.
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