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J Psychopharmacol. 2012 Nov;26(11):1463-70. doi: 10.1177/0269881112450781. Epub 2012 Jun 15.

Hippocampal N-acetylaspartate and morning cortisol levels in drug-naive, first-episode patients with major depressive disorder: effects of treatment.

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Medical Imaging Center, First Affiliated Hospital of Jinan University, Guangzhou, China.


An excess of glucocorticoids has been associated with hippocampal pathology in major depressive disorder (MDD). However, the relationships between depression, hippocampal structure and function, and cortisol levels are unclear, and the effects of antidepressant treatment on the measures are not well studied. For this study, 26 first-episode, treatment-naive, non-late-life adult depressed patients and 13 healthy controls were enrolled. Subjects underwent proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H MRS) to obtain metabolite levels from the bilateral hippocampus. Patients with MDD were treated with serotonergic-noradrenergic reuptake inhibitor duloxetine for 12 weeks. After the 12-week period, all subjects with MDD underwent (1)H MRS again. Morning serum cortisol levels also were measured both before and after antidepressant treatment. Comparison of baseline values indicated that there were no significant differences in any of the metabolite ratios (N-acetyl aspartate/creatine (NAA/Cr) and choline (Cho)/Cr) in the bilateral hippocampus. After treatment, NAA/Cr ratios increased significantly in the right hippocampus compared with pre-treatment values. There was no correlation between morning serum cortisol levels and bilateral hippocampal NAA/Cr or Cho/Cr in patients with MDD. These findings suggest that there are unaltered hippocampal metabolites in the early stage of MDD. Antidepressant treatment may affect hippocampal NAA levels in patients with MDD. In addition, the results do not support cortisol-mediated hippocampal neurotoxicity as the major etiological mechanism.

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