Glutamatergic neurometabolite levels in major depressive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies

Mol Psychiatry. 2019 Jul;24(7):952-964. doi: 10.1038/s41380-018-0252-9. Epub 2018 Oct 12.


Alterations in glutamatergic neurotransmission are implicated in the pathophysiology of depression, and the glutamatergic system represents a treatment target for depression. To summarize the nature of glutamatergic alterations in patients with depression, we conducted a meta-analysis of proton magnetic resonance (1H-MRS) spectroscopy studies examining levels of glutamate. We used the search terms: depress* AND (MRS OR "magnetic resonance spectroscopy"). The search was performed with MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycINFO. The inclusion criteria were 1H-MRS studies comparing levels of glutamate + glutamine (Glx), glutamate, or glutamine between patients with depression and healthy controls. Standardized mean differences (SMD) were calculated to assess group differences in the levels of glutamatergic neurometabolites. Forty-nine studies met the eligibility criteria, which included 1180 patients and 1066 healthy controls. There were significant decreases in Glx within the medial frontal cortex (SMD = -0.38; 95% CI, -0.69 to -0.07) in patients with depression compared with controls. Subanalyses revealed that there was a significant decrease in Glx in the medial frontal cortex in medicated patients with depression (SMD = -0.50; 95% CI, -0.80 to -0.20), but not in unmedicated patients (SMD = -0.27; 95% CI, -0.76 to 0.21) compared with controls. Overall, decreased levels of glutamatergic metabolites in the medial frontal cortex are linked with the pathophysiology of depression. These findings are in line with the hypothesis that depression may be associated with abnormal glutamatergic neurotransmission.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Depression / diagnostic imaging
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / analysis
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Glutamine
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid