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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • depression;
  • major depressive disorder;
  • mania;
  • MRI;
  • neuroimaging;
  • review

Background:  As patients with mood disorders manifest heterogeneity in phenomenology, pathophysiology, etiology, and treatment response, a biological classification of mental disease is urgently needed to advance research. Patient and methodological variability complicates the comparison of neuroimaging study results and limits heuristic model development and a biologically-based diagnostic schema.

Objective:  We have critically reviewed and compared the magnetic resonance neuroimaging literature to determine the degree and directionality of volumetric changes in brain regions putatively implicated in the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder (MDD) versus bipolar disorder (BD).

Methods:  A total of 140 published magnetic resonance imaging investigations evaluating subjects with BD or MDD were selected to provide a summary and interpretation of volumetric neuroimaging results in MDD and BD. Further commentary on the pathophysiological implications, and putative cellular and pharmacological mechanisms, is also provided.

Results:  While whole brain volumes of patients with mood disorders do not differ from those of healthy controls, regional deficits in the frontal lobe, particularly in the anterior cingulate and the orbitofrontal cortex, appear to consistently differentiate subjects with mood disorders from the general population. Preliminary findings also suggest that subcortical structures, particularly the striatum, amygdala, and hippocampus, may be differentially affected in MDD and BD.

Conclusions:  Structural neuroimaging studies have consistently identified regional abnormalities in subjects with mood disorders. Future studies should strive to definitively establish the influence of age and medication.