Neurochemical correlates of rapid treatment response to electroconvulsive therapy in patients with major depression

Stephanie Njau, Shantanu H. Joshi, Randall Espinoza, Amber M. Leaver, Megha Vasavada, Antonio Marquina, Roger P. Woods, Katherine L. Narr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Background: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a highly effective brain stimulation treatment for severe depression. Identifying neurochemical changes linked with ECT may point to biomarkers and predictors of successful treatment response. Methods: We used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to measure longitudinal changes in glutamate/glutamine (Glx), creatine (Cre), choline (Cho) and N-acetylaspartate (NAA) in the dorsal (dACC) and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) and bilateral hippocampus in patients receiving ECT scanned at baseline, after the second ECT session and after the ECT treatment series. Patients were compared with demographically similar controls at baseline. Controls were assessed twice to establish normative values and variance. Results: We included 50 patients (mean age 43.78 ± 14 yr) and 33 controls (mean age 39.33 ± 12 yr) in our study. Patients underwent a mean of 9 ± 4.1 sessions of ECT. At baseline, patients showed reduced Glx in the sgACC, reduced NAA in the left hippocampus and increased Glx in the left hippocampus relative to controls. ECT was associated with significant increases in Cre in the dACC and sgACC and decreases in NAA in the dACC and right hippocampus. Lower NAA levels in the dACC at baseline predicted reductions in depressive symptoms. Both ECT and symptom improvement were associated with decreased Glx in the left hippocampus and increased Glx in the sgACC. Limitations: Attrition and clinical heterogeneity may have masked more subtle findings. Conclusion: ECT elicits robust effects on brain chemistry, impacting Cre, NAA and Glx, which suggests restorative and neurotrophic processes. Differential effects of Glx in the sgACC and hippocampus, which approach control values with treatment, may reflect previously implicated underactive cortical and overactive subcortical limbic circuitry in patients with major depression. NAA levels at baseline are predictive of therapeutic outcome and could inform future treatment strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-16
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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