Brain Markers of Depression Vulnerability: the Case of Prefrontal Haemodynamic Response


Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) offers a cheap and reliable tool to investigate prefrontal brain activation in the healthy and diseased human brain. As such, fNIRS bears great potential as a diagnostic tool for clinical practice. Research indicates that fNIRS, together with a relatively simple task to activate the prefrontal cortex, the so-called verbal fluency task (VFT), elucidates prefrontal dysfunction in major depressive disorder (MDD). This finding can potentially serve as an imaging marker for disease pathology, even when depressive symptoms are absent. Indeed, recent research also suggests prefrontal dysfunction in fully remitted MDD (rMDD). Prefrontal haemodynamic responses may therefore serve as a trait marker for MDD vulnerability. This study aims to investigate the haemodynamic response in rMDD, healthy participants with increased MDD risk (HCr; having a 1st-degree relative with MDD), and low-risk healthy participants (HCnr; having no 1st-degree relatives with MDD) using fNIRS. We hypothesize lower prefrontal reactivity in HCr compared to HCnr, and lowest prefrontal reactivity in rMDD compared to HCnr. Our study has the potential to elucidate the neuronal underpinnings of depression vulnerability in the absence of symptoms that are sometimes considered a confounding factor when it comes to studying the biological encoding of depression.

Study Type

  • Study Type: Observational
  • Study Design
    • Time Perspective: Cross-Sectional
  • Study Primary Completion Date: July 31, 2023

Detailed Description

Please refer to the full protocol.


  • Other: fNIRS measurement
    • measurement using functional near-infrared spectroscopy

Arms, Groups and Cohorts

  • Remitted depression
    • Patients in full remission of a major depressive disorder (rMDD)
  • Healthy participants at risk
    • Healthy participants with increased MDD risk (having a 1st-degree relative with MDD)
  • Healthy participants low risk
    • Healthy participants with low MDD risk (having no 1st-degree relatives with MDD)

Clinical Trial Outcome Measures

Primary Measures

  • Oxygenated hemoglobin (HbO) change during VFT
    • Time Frame: Up to 6 months
    • The HbO change during VFT measuring by fNIRS

Secondary Measures

  • Deoxygenated hemoglobin (HbR) change during VFT
    • Time Frame: Up to 6 months
    • The HbR change during VFT measuring by fNIRS
  • The VFT outcome
    • Time Frame: Up to 6 months
    • The number of correct words during VFT

Participating in This Clinical Trial

Inclusion Criteria

  • Mini-mental state examination (MMSE) > 24 Exclusion Criteria:

  • Current diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or autism – current or past diagnosis of neurological disorders, such as head injuries, strokes, encephalitis, epilepsy, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's

Gender Eligibility: All

Minimum Age: 18 Years

Maximum Age: 35 Years

Are Healthy Volunteers Accepted: Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Investigator Details

  • Lead Sponsor
    • Dr Georg Kranz
  • Provider of Information About this Clinical Study
    • Sponsor-Investigator: Dr Georg Kranz, Principal Investigator – The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
  • Overall Official(s)
    • Georg S Kranz, PhD, Principal Investigator, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
  • Overall Contact(s)
    • Georg S Kranz, PhD, 2766,

Clinical trials entries are delivered from the US National Institutes of Health and are not reviewed separately by this site. Please see the identifier information above for retrieving further details from the government database.

At, we keep tabs on over 200,000 clinical trials in the US and abroad, using medical data supplied directly by the US National Institutes of Health. Please see the About and Contact page for details.