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Published January 7, 2015 | Published
Journal Article Open

Adolescents with current major depressive disorder show dissimilar patterns of age-related differences in ACC and thalamus


Objective: There is little understanding of the neural system abnormalities subserving adolescent major depressive disorder (MDD). In a cross-sectional study we compare currently unipolar depressed with healthy adolescents to determine if group differences in grey matter volume (GMV) were influenced by age and illness severity. Method: Structural neuroimaging was performed on 109 adolescents with current MDD and 36 healthy controls, matched for age, gender, and handedness. GMV differences were examined within the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and across the whole-brain. The effects of age and self-reported depressive symptoms were also examined in regions showing significant main or interaction effects. Results: Whole-brain voxel based morphometry revealed no significant group differences. At the whole-brain level, both groups showed a main effect of age on GMV, although this effect was more pronounced in controls. Significant group-by-age interactions were noted: A significant regional group-by-age interaction was observed in the ACC. GMV in the ACC showed patterns of age-related differences that were dissimilar between adolescents with MDD and healthy controls. GMV in the thalamus showed an opposite pattern of age-related differences in adolescent patients compared to healthy controls. In patients, GMV in the thalamus, but not the ACC, was inversely related with self-reported depressive symptoms. Conclusions: The depressed adolescent brain shows dissimilar age-related and symptom-sensitive patterns of GMV differences compared with controls. The thalamus and ACC may comprise neural markers for detecting these effects in youth. Further investigations therefore need to take both age and level of current symptoms into account when disaggregating antecedent neural vulnerabilities for MDD from the effects of MDD on the developing brain.

Additional Information

© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Under a Creative Commons license (Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)) Received 19 August 2014, Revised 25 December 2014, Accepted 27 December 2014, Available online 7 January 2015. This study was funded by the UK Medial Research Council (grant: G0802226), theNational Institute for Health Research (NIHR) (grant: 06/05/01) and the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI), University of Cambridge. The BCNI is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. Additional support was received from the Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. CCH is supported by a Parke Davis Fellowship from the University of Cambridge and resides at Columbia University. We thank all participants and their families for participating in this study. We also thank the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Mental Health Research Network, IMPACT research assistants, and IMPACT clinicians, without whom this study would not have been possible. Conflicts of interest: Professor Bullmore is a part-time employee of GlaxoSmithKline. Professor Sahakian consults for Cambridge Cognition, Servier and Lundbeck. She holds a grant from Janssen/J&J. Professors Goodyer and Suckling, Drs. Hagan, Graham, van Nieuwenhuizen, Lennox, Ooi, Simas, Tait, Whitaker, and Mr. Widmer report no competing interests.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023