A multicenter research team led by Nancy Sicotte, MD, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has linked change in brain structure with a certain type of depression among women who have multiple sclerosis (MS) using a new imaging technique.

Automated flesh modeling can reveal subtle changes in thickness in the subregions of the hippocampus, a structure known to regulate mood. Previously the only method to identify such changes was through labor-intensive analysis of high resolution MRI images. The new system uses more accessible MRI scans and automates the brain mapping process.

The team found that women with MS who displayed a depressive affect, such as depressed mood and loss of interest, also demonstrated shrinkage in the size of the right hippocampus. The left hippocampus was unaffected, while other forms of depression, such as vegetative depression, did not correlate with size reduction. The study supports previous findings suggesting that the hippocampus may play a role in the high incidence of depression among MS patients.

“Patients with medical disorders—and especially those with inflammatory diseases such as MS—often suffer from depression, which can cause fatigue. But not all fatigue is caused by depression. We believe that while fatigue and depression often co-occur in patients with MS, they may be brought about by different biological mechanisms. Our studies are designed to help us better understand how MS-related depression differs from other types, improve diagnostic imaging systems to make them more widely available and efficient, and create better, more individualized treatments for our patients,” said Sicotte, director of Cedars-Sinai’s multiple sclerosis program and the neurology residency program.

The study included researchers from University Hospital, Hamburg, Germany; the University of Arizona, Tucson; David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles; the University of California, San Francisco; Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn; and Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago. In 2013 Sicotte received a $506,000 grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to continue her research.