Background: Brain abnormalities in fronto-temporal structures have been implicated in major depressive disorder (MDD). This study aims to identify their anatomical distribution and their relation to the time course of the disease.
Methods: A whole-brain voxel based morphometry analysis was conducted to assess gray and white matter alterations in 56 participants with a lifetime history of MDD, including currently depressed (cMDD) and remitted patients (rMDD), and 33 matched healthy controls (HC).
Results: Compared to HC, MDD participants showed increased white matter volume (WMV) in the uncinate fasciculus (UF) and decreased gray matter density (GMD) on the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The increased WMV in UF was driven by both cMDD and rMDD groups and positively correlated with depression scores. The GMD decrease in the vmPFC resulted mainly from abnormalities in rMDD and was not correlated with depression scores. Finally, temporal UF and vmPFC white matter showed strong structural covariance suggesting functional interactions between these two brain regions.
Limitations: The retrospective and cross-sectional design of the study limits the generalizability of the results. Information concerning ongoing treatment did not allow the exploration of interactions between medication and observed abnormalities. The duration of the remission period could have influenced abnormalities in the subgroup of remitted patients.
Conclusions: Fronto-temporal alterations in MDD consist of alterations in a cortico-limbic network involving the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and temporal white matter tracts. State-like abnormalities in the UF survive remission and persist as trait-like abnormalities together with alteration in the vmPFC.
Keywords: Magnetic resonance imaging; Major depressive disorder; Uncinate fasciculus; Ventromedial prefrontal cortex; Voxel-based morphometry.
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