Prefrontal cortical hypometabolism during low-dose interferon alpha treatment

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2000 Nov;152(4):383-9. doi: 10.1007/s002130000549.


Objective: To evaluate prospectively interferon alpha (IFN-alpha) associated effects on cerebral glucose metabolism and its correlation to neuropsychiatric symptoms during low-dose IFN-alpha-treatment.

Methods: Eleven patients treated with low-dose IFN-alpha for chronic hepatitis C were prospectively evaluated by neuropsychiatric tests and cerebral [18F]deoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) before and in the 12th week of treatment. PET images were spatially normalized, corrected for variance in global activity and pixel-based t-statistics were calculated for each set of PET scans using SPM96 software. Pixel-cluster with P<0.001 for hypo- or hypermetabolism were displayed in parametric images. Covariance analysis with neuropsychiatric tests was calculated for each cluster.

Results: In week 12 of IFN-alpha treatment, significant hypometabolism with a decrease of local activity ranging from 8 to 12% was found in all patients bilaterally in the prefrontal cortex (BA 9), which correlated in a covariate analysis with changes in depression score as measured by Beck's Depression Inventory. Additionally, hypermetabolism with a maximum increase in local activity of 6-8% was seen in all patients in putamina as well as the left occipital region (BA 18). Before IFN-alpha treatment, only 1/11 patient showed depressive symptomatology. After 3 months of treatment, 6/11 patients were classified as having mild to moderate depressive symptoms (P<0.1; Wilcoxon test).

Conclusions: Low-dose IFN-alpha therapy is associated with significant prefrontal hypometabolism. This hypometabolism covaried with depression score, but was even found in clinically non-depressed patients. These findings may reflect a possible predisposing factor for IFN-alpha associated neuropsychiatric syndromes and might contribute to a pathophysiological model of affective disorders, as endogenous IFN-alpha levels are elevated in a subset of psychotic patients during acute disease.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antiviral Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18 / metabolism
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Hepatitis C / drug therapy
  • Hepatitis C / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / administration & dosage
  • Interferon-alpha / pharmacology*
  • Interferon-alpha / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Glucose