Data-Driven Clustering Reveals a Link Between Symptoms and Functional Brain Connectivity in Depression

Depression is a complex disorder with large interindividual variability in symptom profiles that often occur alongside symptoms of other psychiatric domains, such as anxiety.


Background: A dimensional and symptom-based approach may help refine the characterization of depressive and anxiety disorders and thus aid in establishing robust biomarkers. We use resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess the brain functional connectivity correlates of a symptom-based clustering of individuals.

Methods: We assessed symptoms using the Beck Depression and Beck Anxiety Inventories in individuals with or without a history of depression (N = 1084) and high-dimensional data clustering to form subgroups based on symptom profiles. We compared dynamic and static functional connectivity between subgroups in a subset of the total sample (n = 252).

Results: We identified five subgroups with distinct symptom profiles, which cut across diagnostic boundaries with different total severity, symptom patterns, and centrality. For instance, inability to relax, fear of the worst, and feelings of guilt were among the most severe symptoms in subgroups 1, 2, and 3, respectively. The distribution of individuals was 32%, 25%, 22%, 10%, and 11% in subgroups 1 to 5, respectively. These subgroups showed evidence of differential static brain-connectivity patterns, in particular comprising a frontotemporal network. In contrast, we found no significant associations with clinical sum scores, dynamic functional connectivity, or global connectivity.

Conclusions: Adding to the pursuit of individual-based treatment, subtyping based on a dimensional conceptualization and unique constellations of anxiety and depression symptoms is supported by distinct patterns of static functional connectivity in the brain.

Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 2018,



Published Aug. 27, 2018 7:00 AM - Last modified Oct. 26, 2020 3:27 PM