Both animal and human studies have implicated the neurotrophic and angiogenic mediator vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in depression, with meta-analyses, indicating that protein levels are raised in patients with depression. In line with this, we have previously shown that VEGFA mRNA levels are higher in whole blood from patients with depression compared to controls, in particular in patients with psychotic unipolar depression, and that treatment with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) alters VEGFA mRNA levels. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to extend this previous work by assessing plasma VEGF protein levels in patients with depression compared to healthy controls, and in patients following treatment with ECT. We found that there was no difference between controls and patients with depression with regard to plasma VEGF (p = 0.59), and that VEGF levels were unaltered by ECT (p = 0.09) after correction for potential covariates. We found no correlation between VEGF protein and mRNA levels. Within the subgroup of patients receiving treatment with bitemporal ECT (n = 34), we identified a moderate negative correlation (ρ = - 0.54, p = 0.001) between the change in VEGF and the change in depression severity following treatment; however, no other association between VEGF and mood, responder/remitter status, polarity of depression, or presence of psychosis were found. Overall, our results indicate that the measurement of VEGF protein is not a useful marker for depression or response to treatment, and suggest that the measurement of VEGFA mRNA may prove more useful.
Keywords: Bipolar disorder; Electroconvulsive therapy; Plasma; Psychosis; Unipolar disorder; VEGF.