INTRODUCTION: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) influences the concentration of peripheral inflammatory markers, such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α). In which way this immune effect contributes to the impact of ECT on the central nervous system in depression remains unknown.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to examine whether the hippocampal volumetric increase in depressed patients treated with ECT is related to changes in peripheral IL-6 and TNF-α levels.
METHODS: IL-6 and TNF-α plasma levels were measured in 62 patients 1 week before and after an acute course of ECT. Hippocampal volumes were analyzed in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) subsample of 13 patients at the same time points.
RESULTS: A significant decrease in IL-6 levels was observed in the total sample and a significant increase in hippocampal volume in the MRI subsample. The reduction of peripheral IL-6 correlated with an increase in total hippocampal volume. A more limited decrease of TNF-α correlated with a more limited increase of both the total and left hippocampus volumes.
CONCLUSION: This pilot study is the first to highlight the link between peripheral immune changes and hippocampal volume increase following ECT. Further research is required to conclude whether ECT indeed exerts its central effect on the brain via changes of peripheral inflammatory markers.