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J ECT. 2014 Jun;30(2):98-106. doi: 10.1097/YCT.0000000000000144.

What does the electroencephalogram tell us about the mechanisms of action of ECT in major depressive disorders?

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  • 1From the *Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and ‚ĆDepartment of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, University of Missouri, Kansas City, MO.


Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) remains to be one of the most effective treatment options in treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD). From the early days, researchers have embarked on extracting information from electroencephalography (EEG) recordings before, during, and after ECT to identify neurophysiological targets of ECT and discover EEG predictors of response to ECT in patients with MDD. In this article, we provide an overview of visually detected and quantitative EEG features that could help in furthering our understanding of the mechanisms of action of ECT in MDD. We further discuss the EEG findings in the context of postulated hypotheses of ECT therapeutic pathways. We introduce an alternative and unifying hypothesis suggesting that ECT may exert its therapeutic efficacy through resetting the aberrant functional connectivity and promoting the generation of new and healthy connections in brain regions implicated in MDD pathophysiology, a mechanism that may be in part mediated by the ECT-induced activation of inhibitory and neuroplasticity mechanisms. We further discuss the added value of EEG markers in the larger context of ECT research and as complementary to neuroimaging and genetic markers. We conclude by drawing attention to the need for longitudinal studies in large cohort of patients and the need for standardization and validation of EEG algorithms of functional connectivity across studies to facilitate the translation of EEG correlates of ECT response in routine clinical practice.

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