Electroconvulsive therapy modulates grey matter increase in a hub of an affect processing network

Neuroimage Clin. 2020:25:102114. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2019.102114. Epub 2019 Dec 9.


A growing number of recent studies has suggested that the neuroplastic effects of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) might be prominent enough to be detected through changes of regional gray matter volumes (GMV) during the course of the treatment. Given that ECT patients are difficult to recruit for imaging studies, most publications, however, report only on small samples. Addressing this challenge, we here report results of a structural imaging study on ECT patients that pooled patients from five German sites. Whole-brain voxel-based morphometry (VBM) analysis was performed to detect structural differences in 85 patients with unipolar depression before and after ECT, when compared to 86 healthy controls. Both task-independent and task-dependent physiological whole-brain functional connectivity patterns of these regions were modeled using additional data from healthy subjects. All emerging regions were additionally functionally characterized using the BrainMap database. Our VBM analysis detected a significant increase of GMV in the right hippocampus/amygdala region in patients after ECT compared to healthy controls. In healthy subjects this region was found to be enrolled in a network associated with emotional processing and memory. A region in the left fusiform gyrus was additionally found to have higher GMV in controls when compared with patients at baseline. This region showed minor changes after ECT. Our data points to a GMV increase in patients post ECT in regions that seem to constitute a hub of an emotion processing network. This appears as a plausible antidepressant mechanism and could explain the efficacy of ECT not only in the treatment of unipolar depression, but also of affective symptoms across heterogeneous disorders.

Keywords: Brain structure; Connectivity; Electroconvulsive therapy; Emotion; Memory; Morphometry.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect* / physiology
  • Aged
  • Cerebral Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex* / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex* / physiopathology
  • Connectome*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / physiopathology
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter* / pathology
  • Gray Matter* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net* / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net* / pathology
  • Nerve Net* / physiopathology
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care