Supraphysiological doses of levothyroxine alter regional cerebral metabolism and improve mood in bipolar depression

M. Bauer, E. D. London, N. Rasgon, S. M. Berman, M. A. Frye, L. L. Altshuler, M. A. Mandelkern, J. Bramen, B. Voytek, R. Woods, J. C. Mazziotta, P. C. Whybrow

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107 Scopus citations


Supplementation of standard treatment with high-dose levothyroxine (L-T4) is a novel approach for treatment-refractory bipolar disorders. This study tested for effects on brain function associated with mood alterations in bipolar depressed patients receiving high-dose L-T4 treatment adjunctive to ongoing medication (antidepressants and mood stabilizers). Regional activity and whole-brain analyses were assessed with positron emission tomography and [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose in 10 euthyroid depressed women with bipolar disorder, before and after 7 weeks of open-label adjunctive treatment with supraphysiological doses of L-T4 (mean dose 320 μg/day). Corresponding measurements were acquired in an age-matched comparison group of 10 healthy women without L-T4 treatment. The primary biological measures were relative regional activity (with relative brain radioactivity taken as a surrogate index of glucose metabolism) in preselected brain regions and neuroendocrine markers of thyroid function. Treatment-associated changes in regional activity (relative to global activity) were tested against clinical response. Before L-T4 treatment, the patients exhibited significantly higher activity in the right subgenual cingulate cortex, left thalamus, medial temporal lobe (right amygdala, right hippocampus), right ventral striatum, and cerebellar vermis; and had lower relative activity in the middle frontal gyri bilaterally. Significant behavioral and cerebral metabolic effects accompanied changes in thyroid hormone status. L-T4 improved mood (remission in seven patients; partial response in three); and decreased relative activity in the right subgenual cingulate cortex, left thalamus, right amygdala, right hippocampus, right dorsal and ventral striatum, and cerebellar vermis. The decrease in relative activity of the left thalamus, left amygdala, left hippocampus, and left ventral striatum was significantly correlated with reduction in depression scores. Results of the whole-brain analyses were generally consistent with the volume of interest results. We conclude that bipolar depressed patients have abnormal function in prefrontal and limbic brain areas. L-T4 may improve mood by affecting circuits involving these areas, which have been previously implicated in affective disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-469
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2005


  • Bipolar depression
  • Brain imaging
  • Glucose metabolism
  • Levothyroxine
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Thyroid hormone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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