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J Psychopharmacol. 2012 May;26(5):636-43. doi: 10.1177/0269881111408966. Epub 2011 Jun 27.

Complexity analysis of spontaneous brain activity: effects of depression and antidepressant treatment.

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Departamento de Psiquiatría y Psicología Médica, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.


Magnetoencephalography (MEG) allows the real-time recording of neural activity and oscillatory activity in distributed neural networks. We applied a non-linear complexity analysis to resting-state neural activity as measured using whole-head MEG. Recordings were obtained from 20 unmedicated patients with major depressive disorder and 19 matched healthy controls. Subsequently, after 6 months of pharmacological treatment with the antidepressant mirtazapine 30 mg/day, patients received a second MEG scan. A measure of the complexity of neural signals, the Lempel-Ziv Complexity (LZC), was derived from the MEG time series. We found that depressed patients showed higher pre-treatment complexity values compared with controls, and that complexity values decreased after 6 months of effective pharmacological treatment, although this effect was statistically significant only in younger patients. The main treatment effect was to recover the tendency observed in controls of a positive correlation between age and complexity values. Importantly, the reduction of complexity with treatment correlated with the degree of clinical symptom remission. We suggest that LZC, a formal measure of neural activity complexity, is sensitive to the dynamic physiological changes observed in depression and may potentially offer an objective marker of depression and its remission after treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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