Background Altered basal ganglia function has been implicated in the pathophysiology of youth Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Studies have generally focused on characterizing abnormalities in ventral "affective" corticostriatal loops supporting emotional processes. Recent evidence however, has implicated alterations in functional connectivity of dorsal "cognitive" corticostriatal loops in youth MDD. The contribution of dorsal versus ventral corticostriatal alterations to the pathophysiology of youth MDD remains unclear.
Methods Twenty-one medication-free patients with moderate-to-severe MDD between the ages of 15 and 24 years old were matched with 21 healthy control participants. Using resting-state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging we systematically investigated connectivity of eight dorsal and ventral subdivisions of the striatum. Voxelwise statistical maps of each subregion's connectivity with other brain areas were compared between the depressed and control groups.
Results Depressed youths showed alterations in functional connectivity that were confined to the dorsal corticostriatal circuit. Compared to controls, depressed patients showed increased connectivity between the dorsal caudate nucleus and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally. Increased depression severity correlated with the magnitude of dorsal caudate connectivity with the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. There were no significant between-group differences in connectivity of ventral striatal regions.
Conclusions The results provide evidence that alterations in corticostriatal connectivity are evident at the early stages of the illness and are not a result of antidepressant treatment. Increased connectivity between the dorsal caudate, which is usually associated with cognitive processes, and the more affectively related ventrolateral prefrontal cortex may reflect a compensatory mechanism for dysfunctional cognitive-emotional processing in youth depression.
- Functional connectivity
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging