While brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been shown to predict response to pharmacotherapy in depression, studies in electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are small and report conflicting results. This study assesses the association between pre-treatment BDNF levels and ECT outcome in severe late-life unipolar depression (LLD). The potential of BDNF as a clinical predictor of ECT outcome was subsequently evaluated. Characteristics associated with low and high BDNF subgroups were determined as well. Ninety-four patients diagnosed with LDD referred for ECT were included. Fasting serum BDNF levels were determined before ECT. Remission and response, measured with the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale, were the outcomes. The association between BDNF and ECT outcome was analysed with logistic regression and Cox regression. The clinical usefulness of BDNF was evaluated using the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve. Associations between clinical characteristics and low versus high BDNF levels were examined with T tests, chi-squared tests and Mann−Whitney tests. The odds of remission decreased with 33% for every five units increase of BDNF levels (OR 0.67, 95% confidence interval 0.47–0.96; p = 0.03); however, neither the association with time to remission nor the associations with response nor the adjusted models were significant. The area under the ROC (0.66) implied a poor accuracy of BDNF as a clinical test. Clinical characteristics associated with BDNF were inclusion site, physical comorbidities and duration of the index episode. To conclude, although there is an association between pre-treatment BDNF levels and ECT outcome, BDNF cannot be considered an eligible biomarker for ECT outcome in clinical practice.
van Zutphen, E. M., Rhebergen, D., van Exel, E., Oudega, M. L., Bouckaert, F., Sienaert, P., ... Dols, A. (2019). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor as a possible predictor of electroconvulsive therapy outcome. Translational Psychiatry, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0491-9, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0491-9