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Molecular mechanisms underlying structural plasticity of electroconvulsive therapy in major depressive disorder.

Although previous studies reported structural changes associated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in major depressive disorder (MDD), the underlying molecular basis of ECT remains largely unknown. Here, we combined two independent structural MRI datasets of MDD patients receiving ECT and transcriptomic gene expression data from Allen Human Brain Atlas to reveal the molecular basis of ECT for MDD. We performed partial least square regression to explore whether/how gray matter volume (GMV) alterations were associated with gene expression level. Functional enrichment analysis was conducted using Metascape to explore ontological pathways of the associated genes. Finally, these genes were further assigned to seven cell types to determine which cell types contribute most to the structural changes in MDD patients after ECT. We found significantly increased GMV in bilateral hippocampus in MDD patients after ECT. Transcriptome-neuroimaging association analyses showed that expression levels of 726 genes were positively correlated with the increased GMV in MDD after ECT. These genes were mainly involved in synaptic signaling, calcium ion binding and cell-cell signaling, and mostly belonged to excitatory and inhibitory neurons. Moreover, we found that the MDD risk genes of CNR1, HTR1A, MAOA, PDE1A, and SST as well as ECT related genes of BDNF, DRD2, APOE, P2RX7, and TBC1D14 showed significantly positive associations with increased GMV. Overall, our findings provide biological and molecular mechanisms underlying structural plasticity induced by ECT in MDD and the identified genes may facilitate future therapy for MDD.

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