Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Frontal haemodynamic responses in depression and the effect of electroconvulsive therapy

Lookup NU author(s): Liam Trevithick, Professor Hamish McAllister-WilliamsORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© The Author(s) 2019. Background: Reduced frontal cortex metabolism and blood flow in depression may be associated with low mood and cognitive impairment. Further reduction has been reported during a course of electroconvulsive therapy but it is not known if this relates to mood and cognitive changes caused by electroconvulsive therapy. Aims: The purpose of this study was to investigate frontal function while undertaking cognitive tasks in depressed patients compared with healthy controls, and following electroconvulsive therapy in patients. Methods: We measured frontal haemodynamic responses to a category verbal fluency task and a working memory N-back task using portable functional near infra-red spectroscopy (fNIRS) in 51 healthy controls and 18 severely depressed patients, 12 of whom were retested after the fourth treatment of a course of electroconvulsive therapy. Mood was assessed using the Montgomery Åsberg Depression Rating Scale and cognitive function using category Verbal Fluency from the Controlled Oral Word Association Test and Digit Span backwards. Results: Compared to healthy controls, depressed patients had bilaterally lower frontal oxyhaemoglobin responses to the cognitive tasks, although this was only significant for the N-Back task where performance correlated inversely with depression severity in patients. After four electroconvulsive therapy treatments oxyhaemoglobin responses were further reduced during the Verbal Fluency task but the changes did not correlate with mood or cognitive changes. Discussion: Our results confirmed a now extensive literature showing impaired frontal fNIRS oxyhaemoglobin responses to cognitive tasks in depression, and showed for the first time that these are further reduced during a course of electroconvulsive therapy. Further research is needed to investigate the biology and clinical utility of frontal fNIRS in psychiatric patients.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Downey D, Brigadoi S, Trevithick L, Elliott R, Elwell C, McAllister-Williams RH, Anderson IM

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Psychopharmacology

Year: 2019

Volume: 33

Issue: 8

Pages: 1003-1014

Print publication date: 01/08/2019

Online publication date: 25/06/2019

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 16/07/2019

ISSN (print): 0269-8811

ISSN (electronic): 1461-7285

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd


DOI: 10.1177/0269881119858313


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name
10/90/04National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)