Imaging Phenotypes of Major Depressive Disorder: Genetic Correlates.

Savitz JB, Drevets WC.
Neuroscience. 2009 Apr 6.


Imaging techniques are a potentially powerful method of identifying phenotypes that are associated with, or are indicative of a vulnerability to developing major depressive disorder (MDD). Here we identify seven promising MDD-associated traits identified by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET). We evaluate whether these traits are state-independent, heritable endophenotypes, or state-dependent phenotypes that may be useful markers of treatment efficacy. In MDD, increased activity of the amygdala in response to negative stimuli appears to be a mood-congruent phenomenon, and is likely moderated by the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) promoter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR). Hippocampal volume loss is characteristic of elderly or chronically-ill samples and may be impacted by the val66met brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene variant and the 5-HTTLPR SLC6A4 polymorphism. White matter pathology is salient in elderly MDD cohorts but is associated with cerebrovascular disease, and is unlikely to be a useful marker of a latent MDD diathesis. Increased blood flow or metabolism of the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), together with gray matter volume loss in this region, is a well-replicated finding in MDD. An attenuation of the usual pattern of fronto-limbic connectivity, particularly a decreased temporal correlation in amygdala-anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity, is another MDD-associated trait. Concerning neuroreceptor PET imaging, decreased 5-HT(1A) binding potential in the raphe, medial temporal lobe, and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) has been strongly associated with MDD, and may be impacted by a functional single nucleotide polymorphism in the promoter region of the 5-HT(1A) gene (HTR1A: -1019C/G; rs6295). Potentially indicative of inter-study variation in MDD etiology or mood state, both increased and decreased binding potential of the serotonin transporter has been reported. Challenges facing the field include the problem of phenotypic and etiological heterogeneity, technological limitations, the confounding effects of medication, and non-disease related inter-individual variation in brain morphology and function. Further advances are likely as epigenetic, copy-number variant, gene-gene interaction, and genome-wide association (GWA) approaches are brought to bear on imaging data.
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