Context Anhedonia, a core symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD) and highly variable among adolescents with MDD, may involve alterations in the major inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitter system ofγ-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Objective To test whether anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) GABA levels, measured by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, are decreased in adolescents with MDD. The associations of GABA alterations with the presence and severity of anhedonia were explored.
Design Case-control, cross-sectional study using single-voxel proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy at 3 T.
Setting Two clinical research divisions at 2 teaching hospitals.
Participants Twenty psychotropic medication-free adolescents with MDD (10 anhedonic, 12 female, aged 12-19 years) with episode duration of 8 weeks or more and 21 control subjects group matched for sex and age.
Main Outcome Measures Anterior cingulate cortex GABA levels expressed as ratios relative to unsuppressed voxel tissue water (w) and anhedonia scores expressed as a continuous variable.
Results Compared with control subjects, adolescents with MDD had significantly decreased ACC GABA/w (t = 3.2; P < .003). When subjects with MDD were categorized based on the presence of anhedonia, only anhedonic patients had decreased GABA/w levels compared with control subjects (t = 4.08; P < .001; PTukey < .001). Anterior cingulate cortex GABA/w levels were negatively correlated with anhedonia scores for the whole MDD group (r = −0.50; P = .02), as well as for the entire participant sample including the control subjects (r = −0.54; P < .001). Anterior cingulate cortex white matter was also significantly decreased in adolescents with MDD compared with controls (P = .04).
Conclusions These findings suggest that GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, may be implicated in adolescent MDD and, more specifically, in those with anhedonia. In addition, use of a continuous rather than categorical scale of anhedonia, as in the present study, may permit greater specificity in evaluating this important clinical feature.