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Electroconvulsive Treatment: Hypotheses about Mechanisms of Action

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      No consensus has been reached on the mode of action of electroconvulsive treatment (ECT). We suggest that two features may aid in the delineation of the involved mechanisms. First, when effective, ECT would be likely to affect brain functions that are typically altered in its primary recipient group, people with severe depression. Central among these are the frontal and temporal lobes, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) stress axis, and the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system. Second, the involved mechanisms should be affected for a time period that matches the average endurance of clinical effects, which is indicated to be several days to a few weeks. To identify effects upon frontal and temporal lobe functioning we reviewed human studies using EEG, PET, SPECT, and fMRI. Effects upon the HPA axis and the dopamine system were assessed by reviewing both human and animal studies. The EEG studies indicate that ECT decelerates neural activity in the frontal and temporal lobes (increased delta and theta wave activity) for weeks to months. Comparable findings are reported from PET and SPECT studies, with reduced cerebral blood flow (functional deactivation) for weeks to months after treatment. The EEG deceleration and functional deactivation following ECT are statistically associated with reduced depression scores. FMRI studies indicate that ECT flattens the pattern of activation and deactivation that is associated with cognitive task performance and alters cortical functional connectivity in the ultra slow frequency range. A common finding from human and animal studies is that ECT acutely activates both the HPA axis and the dopamine system. In considering this evidence, we hypothesize that ECT affects the brain in a similar manner as severe stress or brain trauma which activates the HPA axis and the dopamine system and may compromise frontotemporal functions.

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      Gamma rhythms are commonly observed in many brain regions during both waking and sleep states, yet their functions and mechanisms remain a matter of debate. Here we review the cellular and synaptic mechanisms underlying gamma oscillations and outline empirical questions and controversial conceptual issues. Our main points are as follows: First, gamma-band rhythmogenesis is inextricably tied to perisomatic inhibition. Second, gamma oscillations are short-lived and typically emerge from the coordinated interaction of excitation and inhibition, which can be detected as local field potentials. Third, gamma rhythm typically concurs with irregular firing of single neurons, and the network frequency of gamma oscillations varies extensively depending on the underlying mechanism. To document gamma oscillations, efforts should be made to distinguish them from mere increases of gamma-band power and/or increased spiking activity. Fourth, the magnitude of gamma oscillation is modulated by slower rhythms. Such cross-frequency coupling may serve to couple active patches of cortical circuits. Because of their ubiquitous nature and strong correlation with the "operational modes" of local circuits, gamma oscillations continue to provide important clues about neuronal population dynamics in health and disease.
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        Brain structural and functional abnormalities in mood disorders: implications for neurocircuitry models of depression

        The neural networks that putatively modulate aspects of normal emotional behavior have been implicated in the pathophysiology of mood disorders by converging evidence from neuroimaging, neuropathological and lesion analysis studies. These networks involve the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and closely related areas in the medial and caudolateral orbital cortex (medial prefrontal network), amygdala, hippocampus, and ventromedial parts of the basal ganglia, where alterations in grey matter volume and neurophysiological activity are found in cases with recurrent depressive episodes. Such findings hold major implications for models of the neurocircuits that underlie depression. In particular evidence from lesion analysis studies suggests that the MPFC and related limbic and striato-pallido-thalamic structures organize emotional expression. The MPFC is part of a larger “default system” of cortical areas that include the dorsal PFC, mid- and posterior cingulate cortex, anterior temporal cortex, and entorhinal and parahippocampal cortex, which has been implicated in self-referential functions. Dysfunction within and between structures in this circuit may induce disturbances in emotional behavior and other cognitive aspects of depressive syndromes in humans. Further, because the MPFC and related limbic structures provide forebrain modulation over visceral control structures in the hypothalamus and brainstem, their dysfunction can account for the disturbances in autonomic regulation and neuroendocrine responses that are associated with mood disorders. This paper discusses these systems together with the neurochemical systems that impinge on them and form the basis for most pharmacological therapies.
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          Resting-state functional MRI in depression unmasks increased connectivity between networks via the dorsal nexus.

          To better understand intrinsic brain connections in major depression, we used a neuroimaging technique that measures resting state functional connectivity using functional MRI (fMRI). Three different brain networks--the cognitive control network, default mode network, and affective network--were investigated. Compared with controls, in depressed subjects each of these three networks had increased connectivity to the same bilateral dorsal medial prefrontal cortex region, an area that we term the dorsal nexus. The dorsal nexus demonstrated dramatically increased depression-associated fMRI connectivity with large portions of each of the three networks. The discovery that these regions are linked together through the dorsal nexus provides a potential mechanism to explain how symptoms of major depression thought to arise in distinct networks--decreased ability to focus on cognitive tasks, rumination, excessive self-focus, increased vigilance, and emotional, visceral, and autonomic dysregulation--could occur concurrently and behave synergistically. It suggests that the newly identified dorsal nexus plays a critical role in depressive symptomatology, in effect "hot wiring" networks together; it further suggests that reducing increased connectivity of the dorsal nexus presents a potential therapeutic target.

            Author and article information

            1Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Vestre Viken State Hospital Trust , Lier, Norway
            2Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool , Liverpool, UK
            Author notes

            Edited by: Stefan Borgwardt, University of Basel, Switzerland

            Reviewed by: Christopher A. Wall, Mayo Clinic, USA; Stefan Borgwardt, University of Basel, Switzerland

            *Correspondence: Roar Fosse, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Vestre Viken State Hospital Trust, Fossveien 27, 3400 Lier, Norway e-mail: roar.fosse@

            This article was submitted to Neuropsychiatric Imaging and Stimulation, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

            Front Psychiatry
            Front Psychiatry
            Front. Psychiatry
            Frontiers in Psychiatry
            Frontiers Media S.A.
            27 August 2013
            : 4
            Copyright © 2013 Fosse and Read.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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