The innate immune system and neurogenesis as modulating mechanisms of electroconvulsive therapy in pre-clinical studies

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Background: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a powerful and fast-acting anti-depressant strategy, often used in treatment-resistant patients. In turn, patients with treatment-resistant depression often present an increased inflammatory response. The impact of ECT on several pathophysiological mechanisms of depression has been investigated, with a focus which has largely been on cellular and synaptic plasticity. Although changes in the immune system are known to influence neurogenesis, these processes have principally been explored independently from each other in the context of ECT. Objective: The aim of this review was to compare the time-dependent consequences of acute and chronic ECT on concomitant innate immune system and neurogenesis-related outcomes measured in the central nervous system in pre-clinical studies. Results: During the few hours following acute electroconvulsive shock (ECS), the expression of the astrocytic reactivity marker glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and inflammatory genes, such as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2), were significantly increased together with the neurogenic brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and cell proliferation. Similarly, chronic ECS caused an initial upregulation of the same astrocytic marker, immune genes, and neurogenic factors. Interestingly, over time, inflammation appeared to be dampened, while glial activation and neurogenesis were maintained, after either acute or chronic ECS. Conclusion: Regardless of treatment duration ECS would seemingly trigger a rapid increase in inflammatory molecules, dampened over time, as well as a long-lasting activation of astrocytes and production of growth and neurotrophic factors, leading to cell proliferation. This suggests that both innate immune system response and neurogenesis might contribute to the efficacy of ECT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1086-1097
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • depression
  • glial activation
  • neurogenesis
  • neuroinflammation


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