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Comparative Study
, 25 (11), 2015-21

Volumetric MRI Study of the Habenula in First Episode, Recurrent and Chronic Major Depression

Comparative Study

Volumetric MRI Study of the Habenula in First Episode, Recurrent and Chronic Major Depression

M Carceller-Sindreu et al. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol.


The habenula (Hb) can play an important role in major depressive disorder (MDD) as it is a key node between fronto-limbic areas and midbrain monoaminergic structures. In vivo neuroimaging studies have shown reductions in Hb volume in a post-mortem sample of patients with affective disorders but findings in unipolar MDD are not consistent. The current study aimed to investigate whether the Hb volume differed between patients with different stages of unipolar MDD and healthy subjects. We also explored differences in grey (GM) and white matter (WM) volumes and potential age and gender effects. High-resolution images were acquired using a 3T-scanner from 95 participants (21 with first-episode MDD; 20 with remitted-recurrent MDD; 20 with treatment-resistant/chronic MDD; and 34 healthy controls).Two researchers blinded to clinical data manually delineated habenular nuclei, with excellent inter-rater agreement. Multivariate analysis of covariance revealed a significant group-by-gender interaction (F9,258=2.22; p=0.02). Univariate effects emerged for Hb-WM volumes (F3,86=3.12; p=0.03) but not for total Hb volumes (F3,86=0.59; p=0.62) or Hb-GM volumes (F3,86=2.01; p=0.12). Women with a first-episode MDD had greater Hb-WM volumes than healthy controls and patients with treatment-resistant/chronic MDD (p<0.01). These findings remained unaltered when controlled for total intracranial volume or medication load. Our results do not support decreased total Hb volumes in unipolar MDD, in patients with first-episode or in patients with long-lasting recurrent or chronic depression. However, the increased Hb-WM volume we observed in women with a first-episode suggests involvement of Hb and its projections in early stages of the recovery process and in the course of MDD.

Keywords: Habenula; Magnetic resonance imaging; Major depressive disorder; Treatment-resistant depressive disorder.

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