Pharmacologically Induced Sex Hormone Fluctuation Effects on Resting-State Functional Connectivity in a Risk Model for Depression: A Randomized Trial

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(2):446-453. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.208. Epub 2016 Sep 21.


Women are at relatively greater lifetime risk for depression than men. This elevated risk in women is partly due to heightened risk during time periods characterized by marked fluctuations in sex hormones, including postpartum and perimenopausal periods. How sex hormone fluctuations contribute to heightened risk is not fully understood but may involve intrinsic functional connectivity. We induced a biphasic ovarian sex hormone fluctuation using the gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist (GnRHa) goserelin to determine, with a randomized placebo-controlled design, intervention effects on or GnRHa-provoked depressive symptoms associations with change in resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC) in 58 healthy women for six seeds (amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, dorsal raphe, median raphe, and posterior cingulate cortex). GnRHa intervention did not significantly affect rs-FC in any seeds. Considering the GnRHa group only, the emergence of depressive symptoms following intervention was positively associated with amygdala-right temporal cortex and negatively associated with hippocampus-cingulate rs-FC. A test for mediation suggested that rs-FC changes in these networks marginally mediated the association between decrease in estradiol and increase in depressive symptoms in the GnRHa group (p=0.07). Our findings provide novel evidence-linking changes in rs-FC networks, the emergence of depressive symptoms and sex hormone fluctuations. Notably, we observed evidence that changes in rs-FC may represent a key neurobiological intermediary between molecular changes induced by hormone fluctuations and the emergence of depressive symptoms. Taken together, our findings indicate that sex hormone fluctuations may contribute to heightened risk for developing depressive symptoms by affecting intrinsic functional connectivity of key limbic brain structures.

PMID:27649641 | PMC:PMC5399242 | DOI:10.1038/npp.2016.208

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