Human in vivo evidence of reduced astrocyte activation and neuroinflammation in patients with treatment-resistant depression following electroconvulsive therapy

Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2023 Sep 7. doi: 10.1111/pcn.13596. Online ahead of print.


Aim: The current study aimed to investigate the neuroinflammatory hypothesis of depression and the potential anti-inflammatory effect of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in vivo, utilizing astrocyte-derived extracellular vesicles (ADEVs) isolated from plasma.

Methods: A total of 40 patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and 35 matched healthy controls were recruited at baseline, and 34 patients with TRD completed the post-ECT visits. Blood samples were collected at baseline and post-ECT. Plasma ADEVs were isolated and confirmed, and the concentrations of two astrocyte markers (glial fibrillary acidic protein [GFAP] and S100β), an extracellular vesicle marker cluster of differentiation 81 (CD81), and nine inflammatory markers in ADEVs were measured as main analyses. In addition, correlation analysis was conducted between clinical features and ADEV protein levels as exploratory analysis.

Results: At baseline, the TRD group exhibited significantly higher levels of two astrocyte markers GFAP and S100β, as well as CD81 compared with the healthy controls. Inflammatory markers interferon γ (IFN-γ), interleukin (IL) 1β, IL-4, IL-6, tumor necrosis factor α, IL-10, and IL-17A were also significantly higher in the TRD group. After ECT, there was a significant reduction in the levels of GFAP, S100β, and CD81, along with a significant decrease in the levels of IFN-γ and IL-4. Furthermore, higher levels of GFAP, S100β, CD81, and inflammatory cytokines were associated with more severe depressive symptoms and poorer cognitive function.

Conclusion: This study provides direct insight supporting the astrocyte activation and neuroinflammatory hypothesis of depression using ADEVs. ECT may exert an anti-inflammatory effect through inhibition of such activation of astrocytes.

Keywords: astrocyte; astrocyte-derived extracellular vesicle; electroconvulsive therapy; neuroinflammation; treatment-resistant depression.