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Volume increase in the dentate gyrus after electroconvulsive therapy in depressed patients as measured with 7T

Abstract

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most effective treatment for depression, yet its working mechanism remains unclear. In the animal analog of ECT, neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus is observed. In humans, volume increase of the hippocampus has been reported, but accurately measuring the volume of subfields is limited with common MRI protocols. If the volume increase of the hippocampus in humans is attributable to neurogenesis, it is expected to be exclusively present in the DG, whereas other processes (angiogenesis, synaptogenesis) also affect other subfields. Therefore, we acquired an optimized MRI scan at 7-tesla field strength allowing sensitive investigation of hippocampal subfields. A further increase in sensitivity of the within-subjects measurements is gained by automatic placement of the field of view. Patients receive two MRI scans: at baseline and after ten bilateral ECT sessions (corresponding to a 5-week interval). Matched controls are also scanned twice, with a similar 5-week interval. A total of 31 participants (23 patients, 8 controls) completed the study. A large and significant increase in DG volume was observed after ECT (M = 75.44 mm3, std error = 9.65, p < 0.001), while other hippocampal subfields were unaffected. We note that possible type II errors may be present due to the small sample size. In controls no changes in volume were found. Furthermore, an increase in DG volume was related to a decrease in depression scores, and baseline DG volume predicted clinical response. These findings suggest that the volume change of the DG is related to the antidepressant properties of ECT, and may reflect neurogenesis.

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The authors thank the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) for providing the financial support (Aspasia grant) for this study.

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Nuninga, J.O., Mandl, R.C.W., Boks, M.P. et al. Volume increase in the dentate gyrus after electroconvulsive therapy in depressed patients as measured with 7T. Mol Psychiatry 25, 1559–1568 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-019-0392-6

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