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The age-related heterogeneity in major depressive disorder (MDD) has received significant attention. However, the neural mechanisms underlying such heterogeneity still need further investigation. This study aimed to explore the common and distinct functional brain abnormalities across different age groups of MDD patients from a large-sample, multicenter analysis.
The analyzed sample consisted of a total of 1238 individuals including 617 MDD patients (108 adolescents, 12–17 years old; 411 early-middle adults, 18–54 years old; and 98 late adults, > = 55 years old) and 621 demographically matched healthy controls (60 adolescents, 449 early-middle adults, and 112 late adults). MDD-related abnormalities in brain functional connectivity (FC) patterns were investigated in each age group separately and using the whole pooled sample, respectively.
We found shared FC reductions among the sensorimotor, visual, and auditory networks across all three age groups of MDD patients. Furthermore, adolescent patients uniquely exhibited increased sensorimotor-subcortical FC; early-middle adult patients uniquely exhibited decreased visual-subcortical FC; and late adult patients uniquely exhibited wide FC reductions within the subcortical, default-mode, cingulo-opercular, and attention networks. Analysis of covariance models using the whole pooled sample further revealed: (1) significant main effects of age group on FCs within most brain networks, suggesting that they are decreased with aging; and (2) a significant age group × MDD diagnosis interaction on FC within the default-mode network, which may be reflective of an accelerated aging-related decline in default-mode FCs.
To summarize, these findings may deepen our understanding of the age-related biological and clinical heterogeneity in MDD.
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