Depression Study by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Investigators is First to Determine In Vivo Evidence for Compensatory Neuroplasticity in Humans

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A study led by Ravi Bansal, PhD, and Bradley S. Peterson, MD, of The
Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, has found
structural differences in the cerebral cortex of patients with
depression and that these differences normalize with appropriate
medication. The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry on March
7, is the first to report within the context of a randomized, controlled
trial, the presence of structural changes in the cerebral cortex during
medication treatment for depression and the first to provide in vivo
evidence for the presence of anatomical neuroplasticity in human brain.

“Our findings suggest that thickening of the cerebral cortex is a
compensatory, neuroplastic response that helps to reduce the severity of
depressive symptoms,” said Peterson, director of the Institute of the
Developing Mind at CHLA and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at
the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.
“Patients off medication have a thickened cortex, and the thicker it is,
the fewer the symptoms they have. Treatment with medication then reduces
the severity of symptoms, which in turn reduces the need for biological
compensation in the brain – so that their cortex becomes thinner,
reaching thickness values similar to those in healthy volunteers.”

The investigators acquired anatomical brain scans at baseline and again
at the end of the 10-week study period for 41 patients with chronic
depression, while 39 healthy volunteers were scanned once. This study
was conducted with adult patients treated at Columbia University, when
Peterson and Bansal were faculty members.

Patients were randomized to receive active medication duloxetine, a
selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, or placebo.
During the trial, patients receiving medication experienced significant
improvement of symptoms compared with patients receiving placebo. In
medication-treated patients, cortical thickness declined toward values
found in healthy volunteers while placebo-treated patients showed a
slight thickening of the cortex. According to Bansal, a researcher at
CHLA and professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC,
this finding suggests that placebo-treated patients continue to require
compensation for their ongoing symptoms.

“Although this study was conducted in adults, the methodology developed
– pairing a randomized controlled trial with MRI scanning – can be
applied to many other populations in both children and adults,” said
Bansal. “Also, our observations of neuroplasticity suggest new
biological targets for treatment of persons with neuropsychiatric

David J. Hellerstein, MD, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute
and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons also
contributed to the study. Funding was provided in part by NIH grant
K02-74677, Eli Lilly, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the University
of Southern California.

About Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has been named the best children’s
hospital in California and among the top 10 in the nation for clinical
excellence with its selection to the prestigious U.S. News & World
Report Honor Roll. Children’s Hospital is home to The Saban Research
Institute, one of the largest and most productive pediatric research
facilities in the United States. Children’s Hospital is also one of
America’s premier teaching hospitals through its affiliation since 1932
with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern
California. For more information, visit
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Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Ellin Kavanagh, 323-361-8505