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Meta-analysis of diffusion tensor imaging studies shows altered fractional anisotropy occurring in distinct brain areas in association with depression

Melissa L Murphy and Thomas Frodl*

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychiatry and Institute of Neuroscience, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland

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Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2011, 1:3  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-1-3

Published: 27 September 2011


Fractional anisotropy anomalies occurring in the white matter tracts in the brains of depressed patients may reflect microstructural changes underlying the pathophysiology of this disorder. We conducted a meta-analysis of fractional anisotropy abnormalities occurring in major depressive disorder using voxel-based diffusion tensor imaging studies. Using the Embase, PubMed and Google Scholar databases, 89 relevant data sets were identified, of which 7 (including 188 patients with major depressive disorder and 221 healthy controls) met our inclusion criteria. Authors were contacted to retrieve any additional data required. Coordinates were extracted from clusters of significant white matter fractional anisotropy differences between patients and controls. Relevant demographic, clinical and methodological variables were extracted from each study or obtained directly from authors. The meta-analysis was carried out using Signed Differential Mapping. Patients with depression showed decreased white matter fractional anisotropy values in the superior longitudinal fasciculus and increased fractional anisotropy values in the fronto-occipital fasciculus compared to controls. Using quartile and jackknife sensitivity analysis, we found that reduced fractional anisotropy in the left superior longitudinal fasciculus was very stable, with increases in the right fronto-occipital fasciculus driven by just one study. In conclusion, our meta-analysis revealed a significant reduction in fractional anisotropy values in the left superior longitudinal fasciculus, which may ultimately play an important role in the pathology of depression.