Results of experimental studies suggest that neuroplastic changes may occur during depressive episodes. These effects have not been confirmed in patients with depression, to our knowledge.
To examine changes in the brains of patients with major depression vs those of healthy control subjects.
Prospective longitudinal 3-year study.
Inpatients with major depression were recruited from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, Munich, Germany, and controls were recruited from the local community.
The study included 38 patients with major depression and 30 healthy controls.
Main Outcome Measures
High-resolution magnetic resonance imaging was performed at baseline and 3 years later. Voxel-based morphometric measurements were estimated from magnetic resonance images, and psychopathologic findings were assessed at baseline, weekly during the inpatient phase, and then after 1, 2, and 3 years.
Compared with controls, patients showed significantly more decline in gray matter density of the hippocampus, anterior cingulum, left amygdala, and right dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. Patients who remitted during the 3-year period had less volume decline than nonremitted patients in the left hippocampus, left anterior cingulum, left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and bilaterally in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
This study supports findings from animal studies of neuroplastic stress-related processes that occur in the hippocampus, amygdala, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulum during depressive episodes.