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Springer, European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 3(271), p. 527-536, 2020

DOI: 10.1007/s00406-020-01216-w



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Fatigue and brain arousal in patients with major depressive disorder

This paper is made freely available by the publisher.
This paper is made freely available by the publisher.

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AbstractFatigue is considered a key symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD), yet the term lacks specificity. It can denote a state of increased sleepiness and lack of drive (i.e., downregulated arousal) as well as a state of high inner tension and inhibition of drive with long sleep onset latencies (i.e., upregulated arousal), the latter typically found in depression. It has been proposed to differentiate fatigue along the dimension of brain arousal. We investigated whether such stratification within a group of MDD patients would reveal a subgroup with distinct clinical features. Using an automatic classification of EEG vigilance stages, an arousal stability score was calculated for 15-min resting EEGs of 102 MDD patients with fatigue. 23.5% of the patients showed signs of hypoarousal with EEG patterns indicating drowsiness or sleep; this hypoaroused subgroup was compared with remaining patients (non-hypoaroused subgroup) concerning self-rated measures of depressive symptoms, sleepiness, and sleep. The hypoaroused subgroup scored higher on the Beck Depression Inventory items “loss of energy” (Z = − 2.13, p = 0.033; ɳ2 = 0.044, 90% CI 0.003–0.128) and “concentration difficulty” (Z = − 2.40, p = 0.017; ɳ2 = 0.056, 90% CI 0.009–0.139), and reported higher trait and state sleepiness (p < 0.05) as compared to the non-hypoaroused group. The non-hypoaroused subgroup, in contrast, reported more frequently the presence of suicidal ideation (Chi2 = 3.81, p = 0.051; ɳ2 = 0.037, 90% CI 0.0008–0.126). In this study, we found some evidence that stratifying fatigued MDD patients by arousal may lead to subgroups that are pathophysiologically and clinically more homogeneous. Brain arousal may be a worth while target in clinical research for better understanding the mechanisms underlying suicidal tendencies and to improve treatment response.