Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most effective treatment for severe depression, although the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Animal studies have consistently shown that electroconvulsive stimulation induces neuroplastic changes in the dentate gyrus. To date, few studies have investigated the effect of ECT on human hippocampal subfields. In the current study, structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was conducted in 25 patients with major depressive episodes at 3 time points: before ECT (TP1), after 1 week of the last ECT (TP2) and after 3 months of the last ECT (TP3). Twenty healthy controls were scanned twice with an interval similar to patients between TP1 and TP2. Volumetric analyses of the cornu ammonis (CA)4/dentate gyrus (DG) were performed using the MAGeT-Brain (Multiple Automatically Generated Templates) algorithm. Clinically remitted patients after ECT showed larger volume increases in the right CA4/DG than non-remitted patients. Volume increases in the right CA4/DG were negatively associated with age. Increased CA4/DG volumes after ECT returned to baseline levels after 3 months irrespective of clinical state. ECT-induced volume increase in the CA4/DG was associated with age and clinical remission. These findings are consistent with the neurotrophic processes seen in preclinical studies. Neuroplastic change in the CA4/DG might mediate some of the short-term antidepressant effects of ECT.
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