The amygdala participates in the detection and control of affective states, and has been proposed to be a site of dysfunction in affective disorders. To assess amygdala processing in individuals with unipolar depression, we applied a functional MRI (fMRI) paradigm previously shown to be sensitive to amygdala function. Fourteen individuals with untreated DSM-IV major depression and 15 healthy subjects were studied using fMRI with a standardized emotion face recognition task. Voxel-level data sets were subjected to a multiple-regression analysis, and functionally defined regions of interest (ROI), including bilateral amygdala, were analyzed with MANOVA. Pearson correlation coefficients between amygdala activation and HAM-D score also were performed. While both depressed and healthy groups showed increased amygdala activity when viewing emotive faces compared to geometric shapes, patients with unipolar depression showed relatively more activity than healthy subjects, particularly on the left. Positive Pearson correlations between amygdala activation and HAM-D score were found for both left and right ROIs in the patient group. This study provides in vivo imaging evidence to support the hypothesis of abnormal amygdala functioning in depressed individuals.
Keywords: depressive disorder, amygdala, facial expression, functional MRI