Electroconvulsive therapy increases temporal gray matter volume and cortical thickness

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2016 Mar;26(3):506-17. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.12.036. Epub 2015 Dec 29.


Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a treatment of choice for severe and therapy resistant forms of major depressive episodes (MDE). Temporal brain volume alterations in MDE have been described for more than two decades. In our prospective study we aimed to investigate individual pre-post ECT treatment whole brain gray matter (GM) volume changes (quantified with voxel-based morphometry) in a sample of 18 patients with MDE. In addition, we studied the effect of ECT on voxel-based cortical thickness in cortical brain regions. The most prominent longitudinal GM increases (significant at a whole brain corrected level) occurred in temporal lobe regions. Within specific region of interest analyses we detected highly significant increases of GM in the hippocampus and the amygdala and to a lesser extent in the habenula (left p=0.003, right p=0.032). A voxel based cortical thickness analysis revealed an increase in cortical temporal regions (basically temporal pole and insula) further corroborating our cortical voxel-based morphometry results. Neither GM decreases or white matter increases nor correlations of GM changes with basic psychopathological parameters were detected. We corroborate earlier findings of hippocampal and amygdala GM volume increase following an acute ECT series in patients with MDE. Temporal GM volume increase was significant on a whole brain level and further corroborated by a cortical thickness analysis. Our data widely exclude white matter loss as an indirect cause of GM growth. Our data add further evidence to the hypothesis that ECT enables plasticity falsifying older ideas of ECT induced "brain damaging".

Keywords: Amygdala; Cortical thickness; Depression; Electroconvulsive therapy; Hippocampus; VBM.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology*