Background: This report provides histopathological evidence to support prior neuroimaging findings of decreased volume and altered metabolism in the frontal cortex in major depressive disorder.
Methods: Computer-assisted three-dimensional cell counting was used to reveal abnormal cytoarchitecture in left rostral and caudal orbitofrontal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortical regions in subjects with major depression as compared to psychiatrically normal controls.
Results: Depressed subjects had decreases in cortical thickness, neuronal sizes, and neuronal and glial densities in the upper (II-IV) cortical layers of the rostral orbitofrontal region. In the caudal orbitofrontal cortex in depressed subjects, there were prominent reductions in glial densities in the lower (V-VI) cortical layers that were accompanied by small but significant decreases in neuronal sizes. In the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of depressed subjects marked reductions in the density and size of neurons and glial cells were found in both supra- and infragranular layers.
Conclusions: These results reveal that major depression can be distinguished by specific histopathology of both neurons and glial cells in the prefrontal cortex. Our data will contribute to the interpretation of neuroimaging findings and identification of dysfunctional neuronal circuits in major depression.