Imaging cerebral tryptophan metabolism in brain tumor-associated depression

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© 2015, Bosnyák et al. Background: Depression in patients with brain tumors is associated with impaired quality of life and shorter survival. Altered metabolism of tryptophan to serotonin and kynurenine metabolites may play a role in tumor-associated depression. Our recent studies with alpha[ 11 C]methyl-L-tryptophan (AMT)-PET in brain tumor patients indicated abnormal tryptophan metabolism not only in the tumor mass but also in normal-appearing contralateral brain. In the present study, we explored if tryptophan metabolism in such brain regions is associated with depression. Methods: Twenty-one patients (mean age: 57 years) with a brain tumor (10 meningiomas, 8 gliomas, and 3 brain metastases) underwent AMT-PET scanning. MRI and AMT-PET images were co-registered, and AMT kinetic parameters, including volume of distribution (VD’, an estimate of net tryptophan transport) and K (unidirectional uptake, related to tryptophan metabolism), were measured in the tumor mass and in unaffected cortical and subcortical regions contralateral to the tumor. Depression scores (based on the Beck Depression Inventory-II [BDI-II] ) were correlated with tumor size, grade, type, and AMT-PET variables. Results: The mean BDI-II score was 12 ± 10 (range: 2–33); clinical levels of depression were identified in seven patients (33 %). High BDI-II scores were most strongly associated with high thalamic AMT K values both in the whole group (Spearman’s rho = 0.63, p = 0.004) and in the subgroup of 18 primary brain tumors (r = 0.68, p = 0.004). Frontal and striatal VD’ values were higher in the depressed subgroup than in non-depressed patients (p < 0.05); the group difference was even more robust when moderately/severely depressed patients were compared to patients with no/mild depression (frontal: p = 0.005; striatal: p < 0.001). Tumor size, grade, and tumor type were not related to depression scores. Conclusions: Abnormalities of tryptophan transport and metabolism in the thalamus, striatum, and frontal cortex, measured by PET, are associated with depression in patients with brain tumor. These changes may indicate an imbalance between the serotonin and kynurenine pathways and serve as a molecular imaging marker of brain tumor-associated depression. Trial registration: NCT02367469




Bosnyák, E., Kamson, D. O., Behen, M. E., Barger, G. R., Mittal, S., & Juhász, C. (2015). Imaging cerebral tryptophan metabolism in brain tumor-associated depression. EJNMMI Research, 5(1).

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