While the efficacy and tolerability of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression has been well established, the acute effects of ECT on brain function remain unclear. Particularly, although cognitive dysfunction has been consistently observed after ECT, little is known about the extent and time course of ECT-induced brain functional changes, as observed during cognitive tasks. Considering the acute antidepressant effects of ECT on depression, aberrant brain functional responses during cognitive tasks in patients with depression may improve immediately after this treatment. To clarify changes in cortical functional responses to cognitive tasks following ECT, we used task-related functional near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to assess 30 patients with major depressive disorder or bipolar depression before and after an ECT series, as well as 108 healthy controls. Prior to ECT, patients exhibited significantly smaller [oxy-Hb] values in the bilateral frontal cortex during a letter verbal fluency task (VFT) compared with healthy controls. We found a significant increase in [oxy-Hb] values in the bilateral frontal cortex during the VFT after ECT in the patient group. A decrease in depression severity was significantly correlated with an increase in [oxy-Hb] values in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex following ECT. This is the first NIRS study to evaluate brain functional changes before vs. after ECT. Impaired functional responses, observed during the cognitive task in depressed patients, were normalized after ECT. Thus, recovery from abnormal functional responses to cognitive tasks in the frontal brain regions may be associated with the acute therapeutic effects of ECT for depression.
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