Gender differences in α-[11C]MTrp brain trapping, an index of serotonin synthesis, in medication-free individuals with major depressive disorder: A positron emission tomography study Academic Article uri icon

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  • Women are at higher risk than men for developing major depressive disorder (MDD), but the mechanisms underlying this higher risk are unknown. Here, we report proportionally normalized alpha-[(11)C]methyl-L-tryptophan brain trapping constant (alpha-[(11)C]MTrp K*(N)), an index of serotonin synthesis, in 25 medication-free individuals with MDD and in 25 gender- and age-matched healthy subjects who were studied using positron emission tomography (PET). Comparisons of alpha-[(11)C]MTrp K*(N) values between the men and women were conducted at the voxel and cluster levels using Statistical Parametric Mapping 2 (SPM2) analysis. In addition, the alpha-[(11)C]MTrp K*(N) values on both sides of the brain were extracted and compared to identify the left to right differences, as well as the gender differences. Women with MDD displayed higher alpha-[(11)C]MTrp K*(N) than men in the inferior frontal gyrus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), parahippocampal gyrus, precuneus, superior parietal lobule, and occipital lingual gyrus. In a matched group of normal subjects the gender differences were opposite from those found in MDD patients. Significant hemispheric differences in fronto-limbic structures between men and women with MDD were also observed. The K*(N) extracted from the volumes identified in MDD patients and in male and female normal subjects suggested no significant differences between males and females. In conclusion, depressed women have higher serotonin synthesis in multiple regions of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system involved with mood regulation, as compared with depressed men. Gender differences in brain serotonin synthesis may be related to higher risk for MDD in women.


  • Frey, Benicio
  • Skelin, Ivan
  • Sakai, Yojiro
  • Nishikawa, Masami
  • Diksic, Mirko

publication date

  • August 2010