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Julia Lebovitz



Job Title

Research Assistant II

Academic Rank




Julia G. Lebovitz, Jessica N. Busler, Monica B. Fonseka, Marcia Sahaya Louis, Huijun Liao, Alexander P. Lin, Pamela B. Mahon, Katherine E. Burdick

Principal Investigator

Katherine E Burdick

Research Category: Psychiatry/Mental Health


Neurometabolic Alterations Related to Loneliness and Coping in Post-Menopausal Women with Depression

Scientific Abstract

Background: Loneliness and maladaptive coping are associated with depression severity and duration. Neurometabolic alterations are common in depressed individuals; studies utilizing magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) identified decreased levels of glutamatergic neurometabolites in the ventromedial frontal cortex (vmPFC) in patients compared to controls. However, little research has examined glutamatergic mechanisms underlying variability in loneliness and coping in depression.

Methods: Using self-assessments, clinical assessments, and ultra high field (7T) short echo single voxel MRS, this study investigated relationships between levels of glutamatergic neurometabolites, glutamine (Gln) and glutamate (Glu), in the vmPFC and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), experiences of loneliness and coping skills, and depression symptoms in 10 postmenopausal women with major depressive disorder.

Results: Bivariate correlations indicated that the total loneliness score was correlated with Gln levels in the vmPFC (r = -0.81; p<0.05). Glu levels in the vmPFC were correlated with adaptive coping scales (r = 0.84; p<0.01). More severe depression levels were associated with more maladaptive coping skills (r = 0.46; p<0.05).

Discussion: These results indicate that glutamatergic dysfunction in the vmPFC may be associated with specific behavioral mechanisms contributing to depression. Ultimately, treatments targeting glutamatergic systems in the vmPFC may improve specific behavioral factors impacting depression.

Lay Abstract

This study investigated relationships of molecular glutamatergic mechanisms (glutamate and glutamine) with behavioral mechanisms (coping and loneliness) that have been found to be associated with depression severity. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is a non-invasive technology that can measure metabolites in different brain regions. We focused on key brain regions implicated in depression, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Our sample included 10 postmenopausal women with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. We found that levels of glutamate were associated with adaptive coping skills and glutamine levels were associated with self-reported loneliness. Further, more severe depression levels were negatively associated with adaptive and positively associated with maladaptive coping skills. This line of research provides insights into multiple mechanisms that may contribute to depression symptom severity and ultimately may lead to targeted treatment strategies.

Clinical Implications

Our preliminary study provides evidence of dysregulation in glutamatergic systems, behavioral coping, and loneliness as mechanisms that may contribute to depression severity in postmenopausal women and may ultimately have implications for the development of targeted treatment strategies for depression in this population.