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Concept: Seasonal affective disorder


Recent insights into the role of the human microbiota in cognitive and affective functioning have led to the hypothesis that probiotic supplementation may act as an adjuvant strategy to ameliorate or prevent depression.

Concepts: Psychology, Gut flora, Randomized controlled trial, Escherichia coli, Pharmaceutical industry, Probiotic, Seasonal affective disorder, Emotion


We wanted to examine tolerability and efficacy of NSI-189, a benzylpiperizine-aminiopyridine neurogenic compound for treating major depressive disorder (MDD). This was a Phase 1B, double blind, randomized, placebo controlled, multiple-dose study with three cohorts. The first cohort received 40 mg q.d. (n=6) or placebo (n=2), the second cohort 40 mg b.i.d. (n=6) or placebo (n=2), and the third cohort 40 mg t.i.d. (n=6) or placebo (n=2). Twenty-four patients with MDD were recruited, with the diagnosis and severity confirmed through remote interviews. Eligible patients received NSI-189 or placebo for 28 days in an inpatient setting with assessments for safety, pharmacokinetics (PK) and efficacy. Outpatient follow-up visits were conducted until day 84 (±3). NSI-189 was relatively well tolerated at all doses, with no serious adverse effects. NSI-189 area under the curve increased in a dose-related and nearly proportional manner across the three cohorts, with a half-life of 17.4-20.5 h. The exploratory efficacy measurements, including Symptoms Of Depression Questionnaire (SDQ), Montgomery-Asberg Depression Scale (MADRS), Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement (CGI-I), and The Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cognitive and Physical Functioning Questionnaire (CPFQ) showed a promising reduction in depressive and cognitive symptoms across all measures for NSI-189, with significant improvement in the SDQ and CPFQ, and a medium to large effect size for all measures. These improvements persisted during the follow-up phase. In summary, NSI-189 shows potential as a treatment for MDD in an early phase study. The main limitation of this preliminary study was the small sample size of each cohort.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 8 December 2015; doi:10.1038/mp.2015.178.

Concepts: Sample size, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Dysthymia, Depression, Types of psychological depression


BACKGROUND: There is a significant treatment gap for patients with depression. A third of sufferers never seek help, and the vast majority of those who do only do so after considerable delay. Little is understood regarding poor help-seeking rates amongst people with depression, with existing research mainly focussed on the impact of barriers to treatment. The current study explored psychological factors affecting help-seeking behaviour in clinically depressed individuals. METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 current or previously clinically depressed participants who either had or had not sought professional help. Thematic analysis was used to analyse results. RESULTS: The onset of depressive symptoms created conflict with participants' identity and personal goals. Delays in seeking help were primarily attributed to the desire to protect identity and goals from the threat of depressive symptoms. Participants used avoidance strategies to reduce the perceived threat of depressive symptoms on identity. These strategies interfered with help-seeking. Help-seeking was only undertaken once participants reached a point of acceptance and began to make concessions in their identity and goals, at which time they reduced their use of avoidance. CONCLUSIONS: Difficulties resolving conflict between identity and depressive symptoms may account for significant delays in seeking help for depression. The results have implications for predicting health behaviour and improving treatment uptake for depression, and may inform existing help-seeking models.

Concepts: Cognitive behavioral therapy, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Dysthymia, Types of psychological depression, Suicide, Leonard Cohen


Previous reports of altered grey and white matter structure in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) have been inconsistent. Recent meta-analyses have, however, reported reduced hippocampal grey matter volume in MDD and reduced white matter integrity in several brain regions. The use of different diagnostic criteria, scanners and imaging sequences may, however, obscure further anatomical differences. In this study, we tested for differences in subcortical grey matter volume (n = 1157) and white matter integrity (n = 1089) between depressed individuals and controls in the subset of 8590 UK Biobank Imaging study participants who had undergone depression assessments. Whilst we found no significant differences in subcortical volumes, significant reductions were found in depressed individuals versus controls in global white matter integrity, as measured by fractional anisotropy (FA) (β = -0.182, p = 0.005). We also found reductions in FA in association/commissural fibres (β = -0.184, pcorrected = 0.010) and thalamic radiations (β = -0.159, pcorrected = 0.020). Tract-specific FA reductions were also found in the left superior longitudinal fasciculus (β = -0.194, pcorrected = 0.025), superior thalamic radiation (β = -0.224, pcorrected = 0.009) and forceps major (β = -0.193, pcorrected = 0.025) in depression (all betas standardised). Our findings provide further evidence for disrupted white matter integrity in MDD.

Concepts: Human brain, Hippocampus, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Dysthymia, Types of psychological depression, Subcortical ischemic depression


Adversity, particularly in early life, can cause illness. Clues to the responsible mechanisms may lie with the discovery of molecular signatures of stress, some of which include alterations to an individual’s somatic genome. Here, using genome sequences from 11,670 women, we observed a highly significant association between a stress-related disease, major depression, and the amount of mtDNA (p = 9.00 × 10(-42), odds ratio 1.33 [95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.29-1.37]) and telomere length (p = 2.84 × 10(-14), odds ratio 0.85 [95% CI = 0.81-0.89]). While both telomere length and mtDNA amount were associated with adverse life events, conditional regression analyses showed the molecular changes were contingent on the depressed state. We tested this hypothesis with experiments in mice, demonstrating that stress causes both molecular changes, which are partly reversible and can be elicited by the administration of corticosterone. Together, these results demonstrate that changes in the amount of mtDNA and telomere length are consequences of stress and entering a depressed state. These findings identify increased amounts of mtDNA as a molecular marker of MD and have important implications for understanding how stress causes the disease.

Concepts: DNA, Causality, Illness, Experiment, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Types of psychological depression


Although stressful life events (SLEs) predict subsequent risk of developing a major depressive episode (MDE), limited information exists on whether or not race and gender alters the predictive role of SLE on risk of MDE over a long-term period. The current study explored race and gender differences in the long-term predictive role of SLE at baseline (1986) on subsequent risk of MDE 25 years later (2011) in a nationally representative cohort in the United States.

Concepts: United States, Gender role, Race, Major depressive disorder, Major depressive episode, Seasonal affective disorder, Dysthymia, Nationalism


The habenula is a small, evolutionarily conserved brain structure that plays a central role in aversive processing and is hypothesised to be hyperactive in depression, contributing to the generation of symptoms such as anhedonia. However, habenula responses during aversive processing have yet to be reported in individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). Unmedicated and currently depressed MDD patients (N=25, aged 18-52 years) and healthy volunteers (N=25, aged 19-52 years) completed a passive (Pavlovian) conditioning task with appetitive (monetary gain) and aversive (monetary loss and electric shock) outcomes during high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging; data were analysed using computational modelling. Arterial spin labelling was used to index resting-state perfusion and high-resolution anatomical images were used to assess habenula volume. In healthy volunteers, habenula activation increased as conditioned stimuli (CSs) became more strongly associated with electric shocks. This pattern was significantly different in MDD subjects, for whom habenula activation decreased significantly with increasing association between CSs and electric shocks. Individual differences in habenula volume were negatively associated with symptoms of anhedonia across both groups. MDD subjects exhibited abnormal negative task-related (phasic) habenula responses during primary aversive conditioning. The direction of this effect is opposite to that predicted by contemporary theoretical accounts of depression based on findings in animal models. We speculate that the negative habenula responses we observed may result in the loss of the capacity to actively avoid negative cues in MDD, which could lead to excessive negative focus.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 31 May 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.81.

Concepts: Magnetic resonance imaging, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Mood disorder, Dysthymia, Types of psychological depression


Major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder share symptoms that may reflect core mood disorder features. This has led to the pursuit of intermediate phenotypes and a dimensional approach to understand neurobiological disruptions in mood disorders. Executive dysfunction, including cognitive control, may represent a promising intermediate phenotype across major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. This study examined dimensions of cognitive control in women with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder in comparison to healthy control subjects using two separate, consecutive experiments. For Experiment 1, participants completed a behavioural cognitive control task (healthy controls = 150, major depressive disorder = 260, bipolar disorder = 202; age range 17-84 years). A sample of those participants (healthy controls = 17, major depressive disorder = 19, and bipolar disorder = 16) completed a similar cognitive control task in an event-related design functional magnetic resonance imaging protocol for Experiment 2. Results for Experiment 1 showed greater impairments on the cognitive control task in patients with mood disorders relative to healthy controls (P < 0.001), with more of those in the mood disorder group falling into the 'impaired' range when using clinical cut-offs (<5th percentile). Experiment 2 revealed only a few areas of shared activation differences in mood disorder greater than healthy controls. Activation analyses using performance as a regressor, irrespective of diagnosis, revealed within and extra-network areas that were more active in poor performers. In summary, performance and activation during cognitive control tasks may represent an intermediate phenotype for mood disorders. However, cognitive control dysfunction is not uniform across women with mood disorders, and activation is linked to performance more so than disease. These findings support subtype and dimensional approaches to understanding risk and expression of mood disorders and are a promising area of inquiry, in line with the Research Domain Criteria initiative of NIMH.

Concepts: Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Mood disorder, Dysthymia, Creativity, Mood


A growing body of research demonstrates that individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) are characterized by shortened telomere length, which has been posited to underlie the association between depression and increased instances of medical illness. The temporal nature of the relation between MDD and shortened telomere length, however, is not clear. Importantly, both MDD and telomere length have been associated independently with high levels of stress, implicating dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and anomalous levels of cortisol secretion in this relation. Despite these associations, no study has assessed telomere length or its relation with HPA-axis activity in individuals at risk for depression, before the onset of disorder. In the present study, we assessed cortisol levels in response to a laboratory stressor and telomere length in 97 healthy young daughters of mothers either with recurrent episodes of depression (i.e., daughters at familial risk for depression) or with no history of psychopathology. We found that daughters of depressed mothers had shorter telomeres than did daughters of never-depressed mothers and, further, that shorter telomeres were associated with greater cortisol reactivity to stress. This study is the first to demonstrate that children at familial risk of developing MDD are characterized by accelerated biological aging, operationalized as shortened telomere length, before they had experienced an onset of depression; this may predispose them to develop not only MDD but also other age-related medical illnesses. It is critical, therefore, that we attempt to identify and distinguish genetic and environmental mechanisms that contribute to telomere shortening.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 30 September 2014; doi:10.1038/mp.2014.119.

Concepts: Senescence, Illness, Telomere, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Depression, Types of psychological depression


Medical research is moving toward prevention strategies during prodromal states. Postpartum blues (PPB) is often a prodromal state for postpartum depression (PPD), with severe PPB strongly associated with an elevated risk for PPD. The most common complication of childbearing, PPD has a prevalence of 13%, but there are no widespread prevention strategies, and no nutraceutical interventions have been developed. To counter the effects of the 40% increase in monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) levels that occurs during PPB, a dietary supplement kit consisting of monoamine precursor amino acids and dietary antioxidants was created. Key ingredients (tryptophan and tyrosine) were shown not to affect their total concentration in breast milk. The aim of this open-label study was to assess whether this dietary supplement reduces vulnerability to depressed mood at postpartum day 5, the typical peak of PPB. Forty-one healthy women completed all study procedures. One group (n = 21) received the dietary supplement, composed of 2 g of tryptophan, 10 g of tyrosine, and blueberry juice with blueberry extract. The control group (n = 20) did not receive any supplement. PPB severity was quantitated by the elevation in depressed mood on a visual analog scale following the sad mood induction procedure (MIP). Following the MIP, there was a robust induction of depressed mood in the control group, but no effect in the supplement group [43.85 ± 18.98 mm vs. 0.05 ± 9.57 mm shift; effect size: 2.9; F(1,39) = 88.33, P < 0.001]. This dietary supplement designed to counter functions of elevated MAO-A activity eliminates vulnerability to depressed mood during the peak of PPB.

Concepts: Amino acid, Nutrition, Dietary supplement, Neurotransmitter, Bipolar disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, Monoamine oxidase, Sadness