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Brain morphometry and connectivity differs between adolescent- and adult-onset major depressive disorder.

BACKGROUND: Early-onset (EO) major depressive disorder (MDD) patients experience more depressive episodes and an increased risk of relapse. Thus, on a neurobiological level, adult EO patients might display brain structure and function different from adult-onset (AO) patients.

METHODS: A total of 103 patients (66 females) underwent magnetic resonance imaging. Structural measures of gray matter volume (GMV) and functional connectivity networks during resting state were compared between EO (≤19 years) and AO groups. Four residual major depression symptoms, mood, anxiety, insomnia, and somatic symptoms, were correlated with GMV between groups.

RESULTS: We found comparatively increased GMV in the EO group, namely the medial prefrontal and insular cortex, as well as the anterior hippocampus. Functional networks in EO patients showed a comparatively weaker synchronization of the left hippocampus with the adjacent amygdala, and a stronger integration with nodes in the contralateral prefrontal cortex and supramarginal gyrus. Volumetric analysis of depression symptoms associated the caudate nuclei with symptoms of insomnia, and persisting mood symptoms with the right amygdala, while finding no significant clusters for somatic and anxiety symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS: The study highlights the important role of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex in EO patients as part of emotion-regulation networks. Results in EO patients demonstrated subcortical volume changes irrespective of sleep and mood symptom recovery, which substantiates adolescence as a pivotal developmental phase for MDD. Longitudinal studies are needed to differentiate neural recovery trajectories while accounting for age of onset.

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