Objective: White matter microstructure alterations have recently been associated with depressive episodes during adolescence, but it is unknown whether they predate depression. The authors investigated whether subthreshold depression in adolescence is associated with white matter microstructure variations and whether they relate to depression outcome.
Method: Adolescents with subthreshold depression (N=96) and healthy control subjects (N=336) drawn from a community-based cohort were compared using diffusion tensor imaging and whole brain tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) at age 14 to assess white matter microstructure. They were followed up at age 16 to assess depression. Probabilistic tractography was used to reconstruct white matter streamlines spreading from the regions identified in the TBSS analysis and along bundles implicated in emotion regulation, the uncinate fasciculus and the cingulum. The authors searched for mediating effects of white matter microstructure on the relationship between baseline subthreshold depression and depression at follow-up, and then explored the specificity of the findings.
Results: Lower fractional anisotropy (FA) and higher radial diffusivity were found in the anterior corpus callosum in the adolescents with subthreshold depression. Tractography analysis showed that they also had lower FA in the right cingulum streamlines, along with lower FA and higher mean diffusivity in tracts connecting the corpus callosum to the anterior cingulate cortex. The relation between subthreshold depression at baseline and depression at follow-up was mediated by FA values in the latter tracts, and lower FA values in those tracts distinctively predicted higher individual risk for depression.
Conclusions: Early FA variations in tracts projecting from the corpus callosum to the anterior cingulate cortex may denote a higher risk of transition to depression in adolescents.
Keywords: Adolescents; Brain Imaging Techniques; Mood Disorders-Unipolar; Neuroanatomy; Outcome Studies.