A telltale boost of activity at the back of the brain while processing emotional information predicted whether depressed patients would respond to an experimental rapid-acting antidepressant, a National Institutes of Health study has found.
"We have discovered a potential neuroimaging biomarker that may eventually help to personalize treatment selection by revealing brain-based differences between patients," explained Maura Furey, Ph.D., of NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Furey, NIMH's Carlos Zarate, M.D., and colleagues, reported on their functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of a pre-treatment biomarker for the antidepressant response to scopolamine, Jan. 30, 2013, online in JAMA Psychiatry.
Scopolamine, better known as a treatment for motion sickness, has been under study since Furey and colleagues discovered its fast-acting antidepressant properties in 2006. Unlike ketamine, scopolamine works through the brain's acetylcholine chemical messenger system. The NIMH team's research has demonstrated that by blocking receptors for acetylcholine on neurons, scopolamine can lift depression in many patients within a few days; conventional antidepressants typically take weeks to work. But not all patients respond, spurring interest in a predictive biomarker.
The acetylcholine system plays a pivotal role in working memory, holding information in mind temporarily, but appears to act by influencing the processing of information rather than through memory. Imaging studies suggest that visual working memory performance can be enhanced by modulating acetylcholine-induced activity in the brain's visual processing area, called the visual cortex, when processing information that is important to the task. Since working memory performance can predict response to conventional antidepressants and ketamine, Furey and colleagues turned to a working memory task and imaging visual cortex activity as potent
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NIH/National Institute of Mental Health