Brain SPECT imaging may provide insight into depression outcomes

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging may identify who is likely to recover from depression and who might not, according to recent research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 

“This is a critically important study,” said lead author Daniel G. Amen, MD, founder of Amen Clinics in California, in a March 20 news release. “Knowing who is likely to get better from depression and who is not will help treating physicians be sensitive to which patients are likely to need more help and need to be monitored more closely."

The study, from Amen Clinics, compared SPECT scans of 507 patients with depression who responded to treatment with 106 patient scans of those that did not show a response.

According to the images, patients who didn’t respond to treatment had lower levels of cerebral blood flow, most notably in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes as well as regions typically affected by Alzheimer’s.

Treatment resistant depression is a major risk factor for suicide, divorce, and job loss according to Amen. "This finding will also lead to more personalized treatment. For patients with low brain activity, stimulating the brain will be more important, than standard serotonin enhancing drugs that tend to lower brain activity,” he said in the statement.