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A review of diffusion MRI in mood disorders: mechanisms and predictors of treatment response

Abstract

By measuring the molecular diffusion of water molecules in brain tissue, diffusion MRI (dMRI) provides unique insight into the microstructure and structural connections of the brain in living subjects. Since its inception, the application of dMRI in clinical research has expanded our understanding of the possible biological bases of psychiatric disorders and successful responses to different therapeutic interventions. Here, we review the past decade of diffusion imaging-based investigations with a specific focus on studies examining the mechanisms and predictors of therapeutic response in people with mood disorders. We present a brief overview of the general application of dMRI and key methodological developments in the field that afford increasingly detailed information concerning the macro- and micro-structural properties and connectivity patterns of white matter (WM) pathways and their perturbation over time in patients followed prospectively while undergoing treatment. This is followed by a more in-depth summary of particular studies using dMRI approaches to examine mechanisms and predictors of clinical outcomes in patients with unipolar or bipolar depression receiving pharmacological, neurostimulation, or behavioral treatments. Limitations associated with dMRI research in general and with treatment studies in mood disorders specifically are discussed, as are directions for future research. Despite limitations and the associated discrepancies in findings across individual studies, evolving research strongly indicates that the field is on the precipice of identifying and validating dMRI biomarkers that could lead to more successful personalized treatment approaches and could serve as targets for evaluating the neural effects of novel treatments.

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Fig. 1: Diffusion-based models and methods.
Fig. 2: Summary of study inclusion for review.
Fig. 3: Major white matter tract pathways represented as tractography streamlines.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the authors of the original research papers included in this review.

Funding

This work was supported by US NIH grants T32 NS048004, T32 GM008243, R01 MH128690, R01 MH132962, and R33 MH110526.

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Al-Sharif, N.B., Zavaliangos-Petropulu, A. & Narr, K.L. A review of diffusion MRI in mood disorders: mechanisms and predictors of treatment response. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-024-01894-3

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