Researchers uncover a connection between multiple sclerosis lesions and depression

Jan. 20, 2023
Brigham team found MS lesions that were consistent with a previously discovered depression circuit, uncovering new therapeutic targets.

Two major health conditions appear to share a connection. Multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease which eats away at the body’s central nervous system, affects millions of people globally and depression, a mood disorder with debilitating symptoms, affects hundreds of millions of people globally. Patients with MS are at nearly three times the risk for depression than the general population.

Exactly how and why MS and depression are related has remained unclear until a new study by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, addressed this gap in understanding. Utilizing a recent study that outlined a depression circuit in the brain, the team attempted to localize MS depression, comparing lesion sites in the brains of MS patients to lesion sites in this previously described circuit and finding new connections and potential therapeutic targets. Their results are published in Nature Mental Health.

To conduct their study, authors relied on a database of 281 patients with MS which has been curated by Drs. Tanuja Chitnis, Bonnie Glanz, and Rohit Bakshi of the Brigham Multiple Sclerosis Center in the Department of Neurology. Dr. Charles Guttmann and his team in the Brigham Center for Neurological Imaging in the Department of Radiology developed a virtual laboratory environment that allows systematic collection and analysis of MRI and clinical data, which greatly facilitated this work. Drs. Guttmann and Bakshi also collaborated to develop an automated lesion detection and outlining protocol, allowing the researchers to locate lesions with relative ease. For each patient, estimated connectivity between lesion locations was determined using a connectome database, a large-scale wiring diagram of the human brain which has been made possible by initiatives such as the Human Connectome Project. Using the connectome database and LNM, the team found significant functional connectivity between MS lesion locations and their a priori depression circuit. Additionally, the data-driven circuit for MS depression showed similar topography to the a priori depression circuit. Together, these findings provide novel localization of MS depression.

Brigham and Women's Hospital release

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