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Increasing interest surrounds potential neuroprotective or neurotrophic actions of antidepressants. While growing evidence points to important early clinical and neuropsychological effects of antidepressants, the time-course of any effect on neuronal integrity is unclear. This study used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to assess effects of short-term treatment with escitalopram on N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), a marker of neuronal integrity. Thirty-nine participants with major depression were randomly assigned to receive either 10 mg escitalopram or placebo daily in a double-blind, parallel group design. On the seventh day of treatment, PRESS data were obtained from a 30×30×20 mm voxel placed in medial frontal cortex. Age and gender-matched healthy controls who received no treatment were also scanned. Levels of NAA were significantly higher in patients treated with escitalopram than in either placebo-treated patients (p<0.01) or healthy controls (p<0.01). Our findings are consistent with the proposition that antidepressant treatment in depressed patients can produce early changes in neuronal integrity.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Neuropsychopharmacol

Publication Date





1541 - 1546


Adolescent, Adult, Antidepressive Agents, Aspartic Acid, Biomarkers, Citalopram, Depressive Disorder, Major, Double-Blind Method, Female, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Male, Middle Aged, Neurons, Protons, Time Factors, Treatment Outcome, Young Adult