Increased cerebral monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) levels have been shown in non-seasonal depression using positron emission tomography (PET). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a sub-form of major depressive disorder and is typically treated with bright light therapy (BLT). The serotonergic system is affected by season and light. Hence, this study aims to assess the relevance of brain MAO-A levels to the pathophysiology and treatment of SAD. Changes to cerebral MAO-A distribution (1) in SAD in comparison to healthy controls (HC), (2) after treatment with BLT and (3) between the seasons, were investigated in 24 patients with SAD and 27 HC using [ 11C]harmine PET. PET scans were performed in fall/winter before and after 3 weeks of placebo-controlled BLT, as well as in spring/summer. Cerebral MAO-A distribution volume (V T, an index of MAO-A density) did not differ between patients and HC at any of the three time-points. However, MAO-A V T decreased from fall/winter to spring/summer in the HC group (F 1, 187.84 = 4.79, p < 0.050), while SAD showed no change. In addition, BLT, but not placebo, resulted in a significant reduction in MAO-A V T (F 1, 208.92 = 25.96, p < 0.001). This is the first study to demonstrate an influence of BLT on human cerebral MAO-A levels in vivo. Furthermore, we show that SAD may lack seasonal dynamics in brain MAO-A levels. The lack of a cross-sectional difference between patients and HC, in contrast to studies in non-seasonal depression, may be due to the milder symptoms typically shown by patients with SAD.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry