UCLA researchers have found a way to predict how individuals with depression will respond to electroconvulsive therapy, a common treatment for the disorder.
In electroconvulsive therapy, doctors stimulate the patient’s brain with electrical pulses while they are under anesthesia. Although the treatment has been found to be effective, nearly one-third of patients fail to respond to it.
In a study published Feb. 27, researchers found the same proteins that prevent some patients from responding well to antidepressants might make them respond better to ECT.
The researchers, including Michael Irwin, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, measured baseline levels of inflammatory markers in the blood before electroconvulsive therapy and related them to symptoms of depression after the treatment. They found that patients with higher levels of interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein tested as having less severe depressive symptoms after ECT.
Previous studies have looked at the relationship between age and baseline symptom severity to determine how effective ECT is for a given patient, but this is the first study to look at the effect of inflammatory proteins in predicting responses to ECT.
The researchers’ findings might give doctors a physiological way to assess which patients should be prescribed antidepressants and which patients should try electroconvulsive therapy. It could also prevent patients with lower levels of inflammatory proteins from paying high prices for electroconvulsive therapy and experiencing symptoms like confusion or memory loss.