A comprehensive hierarchical comparison of structural connectomes in Major Depressive Disorder cases v. controls in two large population samples

Thng, Gladi and Shen, Xueyi and Stolicyn, Aleks and Adams, Mark J. and Yeung, Hon Wah and Batziou, Venia and Conole, Eleanor L. S. and Buchanan, Colin R. and Lawrie, Stephen M. and Bastin, Mark E. and McIntosh, Andrew M. and Deary, Ian J. and Tucker-Drob, Elliot M. and Cox, Simon R. and Smith, Keith M. and Romaniuk, Liana and Whalley, Heather C. (2024) A comprehensive hierarchical comparison of structural connectomes in Major Depressive Disorder cases v. controls in two large population samples. Psychological Medicine. ISSN 0033-2917 (https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291724000643)

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Background The brain can be represented as a network, with nodes as brain regions and edges as region-to-region connections. Nodes with the most connections (hubs) are central to efficient brain function. Current findings on structural differences in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) identified using network approaches remain inconsistent, potentially due to small sample sizes. It is still uncertain at what level of the connectome hierarchy differences may exist, and whether they are concentrated in hubs, disrupting fundamental brain connectivity. Methods We utilized two large cohorts, UK Biobank (UKB, N = 5104) and Generation Scotland (GS, N = 725), to investigate MDD case-control differences in brain network properties. Network analysis was done across four hierarchical levels: (1) global, (2) tier (nodes grouped into four tiers based on degree) and rich club (between-hub connections), (3) nodal, and (4) connection. Results In UKB, reductions in network efficiency were observed in MDD cases globally (d = -0.076, pFDR = 0.033), across all tiers (d = -0.069 to -0.079, pFDR = 0.020), and in hubs (d = -0.080 to -0.113, pFDR = 0.013-0.035). No differences in rich club organization and region-to-region connections were identified. The effect sizes and direction for these associations were generally consistent in GS, albeit not significant in our lower-N replication sample. Conclusion Our results suggest that the brain's fundamental rich club structure is similar in MDD cases and controls, but subtle topological differences exist across the brain. Consistent with recent large-scale neuroimaging findings, our findings offer a connectomic perspective on a similar scale and support the idea that minimal differences exist between MDD cases and controls.