Blood-based mitochondrial respiratory chain function in major depression

Johan Fernström, Synthia H. Mellon, Marlon A. McGill, Martin Picard, Victor I. Reus, Christina M. Hough, Jue Lin, Elissa S. Epel, Owen M. Wolkowitz, Daniel Lindqvist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mitochondrial dysfunction has been implicated in major depressive disorder (MDD). A measure of mitochondrial respiratory chain (RC) enzymatic activity—the Mitochondrial Health Index (MHI)—has previously been found to correlate with stress and emotional states in caregivers. We here report mitochondrial RC activities, mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn), and the composite MHI in unmedicated and somatically healthy subjects with MDD (n = 47) and healthy controls (HC) (n = 11). We also explore, in a subset of the MDD sample (n = 33), whether these markers are associated with response to 8 weeks of SSRI treatment. Mitochondrial RC complexes I, II, IV, citrate synthase (CS), mtDNAcn, and the MHI were assayed in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Treatment response was defined as >50% decrease on the 25-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HRDS-25). There were no significant differences in MHI or any of the mitochondrial markers between MDD subjects and HCs. Compared to SSRI nonresponders, SSRI responders had significantly higher baseline mitochondrial content markers CS (p = 0.02) and mtDNAcn (p = 0.02), and higher complex I activity (p = 0.01). Complex II activity increased significantly over treatment, irrespective of clinical response (p = 0.03). Complex I activity decreased in responders (n = 9), but increased in nonresponders (n = 18) (group x time interaction, p = 0.02). Absolute treatment-associated change in HDRS-25 scores correlated significantly with change in complex I activity between baseline and week 8 (r = 0.47, p = 0.01). Although mitochondrial markers did not distinguish MDD from controls, they did distinguish SSRI responders from nonresponders. If larger studies validate these mitochondrial differences, they may become useful biomarkers and identify new drug targets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number593
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychiatry


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