Date: 17 Aug 2005

Volume deficits of subcortical nuclei in mood disorders

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Structural changes in subcortical nuclei may underlie clinical symptoms of mood disorders. The goal was to determine whether macrostructural changes exist in brain areas assumed to be involved in regulation of mood and whether such changes differ between major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. A case–control design was used to compare volumes of all major subcortical nuclei. Brains of patients with major depressive disorder (n = 9) or bipolar disorder (n = 11) or of individuals without a neuropsychiatric disorder (n = 22) were included. Exclusion criteria were a history of substance abuse or histological signs of neurodegenerative disorders.Volumes of the striato–pallidal nuclei, of the hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala, hippocampus and basal limbic forebrain were determined in the right and left hemisphere by planimetry of 20 μm whole brain serial paraffin sections. Comparisons between patients with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and controls showed a significant (Λ = 0.35, F20,56 = 1.93, P = 0.028) overall difference in volumes of all investigated regions with strong effect sizes ( ƒ > 0.40) contributed by the hypothalamus, external pallidum, putamen and thalamus. As compared to controls, a strong effect size (ƒ > 0.40) was found in the bipolar group for smaller volumes of the hypothalamus, external pallidum, putamen and thalamus,whereas in patients with major depressive disorder a strong effect size was only found for a smaller volume of the external pallidum. In conclusion our data suggest that pathways presumably involved in mood regulation have structural pathology in affective disorders with more pronounced abnormalities in bipolar disorder.