Objective: To investigate white matter volume abnormalities in patients with major depression and the effects of antidepressant treatment on white matter volume.
Method: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed on 32 treatment-naïve depressed patients, 17 recovered patients who had received antidepressant treatment and subsequently achieved clinical recovery and 34 matched controls.
Results: Relative to the healthy controls, the treatment-naïve depressed patients showed increased white matter volumes in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and left putamen and reduced white matter volumes in the left cerebellum posterior lobe and left inferior parietal lobule. For the treatment-naïve patients, the length in months of the current depressive episode was positively correlated with the white matter volumes in both the left DLPFC and left putamen. In the recovered patients, the differences in white matter volume were no longer statistically significant relative to healthy controls. No significant difference was found in the total white matter volume among the three groups.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that there were alterations in the white matter volumes of depressed patients, which might disrupt the neural circuits that are involved in emotional and cognitive function and thus contribute to the pathophysiology of depression. The finding of the significant correlations between refractoriness and the white matter volumes in the left DLPFC and left putamen combined with the finding that antidepressant treatment normalized the white matter volume of recovered patients, suggests that a quantitative, structural MRI measurement could act as a potential biomarker in depression therapy for individual subjects.