Psychology Magazine

Why Electroconvulsive Therapy Works in Mood Disorders.

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds

Dukart et al. make the interesting observation that the controversial procedure of electroconvulsive therapy causes changes in gray matter volume in the brain areas that are implicated as abnormal in refractory major depression and manic depression:

There remains much scientific, clinical, and ethical controversy concerning the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for psychiatric disorders stemming from a lack of information and knowledge about how such treatment might work, given its nonspecific and spatially unfocused nature. The mode of action of ECT has even been ascribed to a “barbaric” form of placebo effect. Here we show differential, highly specific, spatially distributed effects of ECT on regional brain structure in two populations: patients with unipolar or bipolar disorder. Unipolar and bipolar disorders respond differentially to ECT and the associated local brain-volume changes, which occur in areas previously associated with these diseases, correlate with symptom severity and the therapeutic effect. Our unique evidence shows that electrophysical therapeutic effects, although applied generally, take on regional significance through interactions with brain pathophysiology.

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