April 6, 2018
RESTON, Va. – A positron emission tomography (PET) imaging agent could show, ahead of time, whether a specific treatment is likely to be effective for major depressive disorder (MDD)—a debilitating condition that affects more than 14 million Americans. No such marker is currently available in clinical psychiatry. The study is featured in the April issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine.
The PET tracer 11C-DASB targets the serotonin transporter protein (5-HTT) in the amygdala of the brain, which is important for emotional processing. The drug escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), can be an effective MDD treatment, but not for all patients. A PET scan with 11C-DASB can indicate which patients will benefit by measuring the level of 5-HTT present before treatment.
“MDD is a heterogeneous disorder, which makes it extremely difficult to treat effectively,” explains Mala R. Ananth of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. “Optimizing treatment is challenging and is performed by trial and error, which could result in weeks of ineffective treatment, placing a burden on patients. As such, a pretreatment indicator that helps clinicians determine whether treatment will be successful is desperately needed.”
Ananth points out the study’s significance, saying, “Our study begins to address this by using PET to examine the neurobiology of patients with MDD prior to eight weeks of escitalopram (SSRI) treatment. Using PET, we quantified the protein target of SSRIs, the serotonin transporter 5-HTT. Our results indicate that patients who found relief following escitalopram treatment had less 5-HTT protein before treatment began. This is exciting because it suggests that pretreatment neurobiology can be used to predict response to treatment, potentially preventing ineffective treatment trials.”
For the study, 31 healthy individuals (controls) and 26 medication-free patients with MDD received a PET scan using 11C-DASB. MDD subjects then received eight weeks of standardized therapy with escitalopram. The researchers found a significant difference in amygdala binding, with medication-free patients showing an 11 percent lower amygdala binding than controls. These results suggest 5-HTT amygdala binding should be examined further, in conjunction with other measures, as a potential biomarker for remission following standardized escitalopram treatment.
Ananth remarks, “Pretreatment markers of effectiveness are needed to reduce the burden of ineffective treatment trials for patients. Psychiatry currently has no objective markers to determine whether a treatment will be effective. PET imaging can fill that gap, and can be used to quantify biological features that indicate a successful course of treatment. Further, these features shed light on the neurobiology of MDD needed to develop novel and more targeted therapeutics.”
FIGURE: Averaged voxel images of control, remitter, and non-remitter 5-HTT binding (VT/fP) at the plane of the amygdala (red arrows). Credit: MR Ananth et al., Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y.
Authors of “Decreased Pretreatment Amygdalae Serotonin Transporter Binding in Unipolar Depression Remitters: A Prospective PET Study” include Mala R. Ananth, Jie Yang, J. John Mann, and Ramin V. Parsey, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, and Christine DeLorenzo, Stony Brook University and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York.
This study received support from the National Institute of Mental Health (grants R.V.P.: R01 MH074813-01 and J.J.M.: R01MH40695), the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (NARSAD grants), and Pfizer.
Please visit the SNMMI Media Center to view the PDF of the study, including images, and more information about molecular imaging and personalized medicine. To schedule an interview with the researchers, please contact Laurie Callahan at (703) 652-6773 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Current and past issues of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine can be found online at http://jnm.snmjournals.org.
About the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) is an international scientific and medical organization dedicated to advancing nuclear medicine and molecular imaging, vital elements of precision medicine that allow diagnosis and treatment to be tailored to individual patients in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.
SNMMI’s more than 15,000 members set the standard for molecular imaging and nuclear medicine practice by creating guidelines, sharing information through journals and meetings and leading advocacy on key issues that affect molecular imaging and therapy research and practice. For more information, visit www.snmmi.org.