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Metabolic illnesses (MET) are detrimental to brain integrity and are common comorbidities in patients with mental illnesses, including major depressive disorder (MDD). We quantified effects of MET on standard regional brain morphometric measures from 3D brain MRI as well as diffusion MRI in a large sample of UK BioBank participants. The pattern of regional effect sizes of MET in non-psychiatric UKBB subjects was significantly correlated with the spatial profile of regional effects reported by the largest meta-analyses in MDD but not in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease. We used a regional vulnerability index (RVI) for MET (RVI-MET) to measure individual's brain similarity to the expected patterns in MET in the UK Biobank sample. Subjects with MET showed a higher effect size for RVI-MET than for any of the individual brain measures. We replicated elevation of RVI-MET in a sample of MDD participants with MET versus non-MET. RVI-MET scores were significantly correlated with the volume of white matter hyperintensities, a neurological consequence of MET and age, in both groups. Higher RVI-MET in both samples was associated with obesity, tobacco smoking and frequent alcohol use but was unrelated to antidepressant use. In summary, MET effects on the brain were regionally specific and individual similarity to the pattern was more strongly associated with MET than any regional brain structural metric. Effects of MET overlapped with the reported brain differences in MDD, likely due to higher incidence of MET, smoking and alcohol use in subjects with MDD.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Brain Mapp

Publication Date



brain imaging, major depressive disorder, metabolic disorders, regional vulnerability index