Neurotrophic effects of electroconvulsive therapy: a proton magnetic resonance study of the left amygdalar region in patients with treatment-resistant depression

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Apr;28(4):720-5. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300085. Epub 2002 Oct 10.


Negatively balanced neurotrophic factors may be important in precipitating clinical depression. Recently, it has been reported that antidepressant therapy may exert positive neurotrophic effects. The aim of this study was to detect probable neurotrophic changes during electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). For this purpose, N-acetylaspartate (NAA), an amino acid exclusively located in neurons, and other brain metabolites such as glutamine/glutamate (Glx), choline (Cho), and creatine (Cr) were measured in patients by localized proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. A total of 28 severely depressed patients (DSM-IV) were enrolled, and the left amygdalar region was investigated by proton STEAM spectroscopy before and after unilateral ECT. The results were compared with 28 age- and gender-matched controls using nonparametric paired and unpaired tests. A significant increase in NAA was observed only in ECT responders (n=14; p=0.019). Five out of 14 nonresponders to ECT monotherapy were remeasured following a clinical improvement after continued ECT combined with antidepressants and were then found also to present a significant increase in NAA. In all successfully treated patients, parallel observations, that is, increased levels, were made for Glx, whereas Cho and Cr were unchanged. In conclusion, our preliminary finding of increased NAA concentrations after successful ECT may indicate a probable neurotrophic effect of ECT.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amygdala / metabolism*
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / methods*
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Protons
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Protons
  • Aspartic Acid
  • N-acetylaspartate