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1.  Elevated Amygdala Activity to Sad Facial Expressions: A State Marker of Bipolar but Not Unipolar Depression 
Biological psychiatry  2009;67(5):414-421.
Difficulties in emotion processing and poor social function are common to bipolar disorder (BD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) depression, resulting in many BD depressed individuals being misdiagnosed with MDD. The amygdala is a key region implicated in processing emotionally salient stimuli, including emotional facial expressions. It is unclear, however, whether abnormal amygdala activity during positive and negative emotion processing represents a persistent marker of BD regardless of illness phase or a state marker of depression common or specific to BD and MDD depression.
Sixty adults were recruited: 15 depressed with BD type 1 (BDd), 15 depressed with recurrent MDD, 15 with BD in remission (BDr), diagnosed with DSM-IV and Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Research Version criteria; and 15 healthy control subjects (HC). Groups were age- and gender ratio-matched; patient groups were matched for age of illness onset and illness duration; depressed groups were matched for depression severity. The BDd were taking more psychotropic medication than other patient groups. All individuals participated in three separate 3T neuroimaging event-related experiments, where they viewed mild and intense emotional and neutral faces of fear, happiness, or sadness from a standardized series.
The BDd—relative to HC, BDr, and MDD—showed elevated left amygdala activity to mild and neutral facial expressions in the sad (p < .009) but not other emotion experiments that was not associated with medication. There were no other significant between-group differences in amygdala activity.
Abnormally elevated left amygdala activity to mild sad and neutral faces might be a depression-specific marker in BD but not MDD, suggesting different pathophysiologic processes for BD versus MDD depression.
PMCID: PMC2854029  PMID: 19931855
Amygdala; bipolar disorder; emotional processing; fMRI; major depressive disorder; mood disorders
2.  Heterogeneity of Amygdala Response in Major Depressive Disorder: The Impact of Lifetime Sub-Threshold Mania 
Psychological medicine  2012;43(2):293-302.
Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) present with highly heterogeneous symptom profiles. We aimed to examine whether individual differences in amygdala activity to emotionally-salient stimuli were related to heterogeneity in lifetime levels of depressive and sub-threshold manic symptoms among adults with MDD.
We compared age- and gender-matched adults with MDD (N=26) with healthy controls (HC, N=28). While undergoing fMRI, participants performed an implicit emotional faces task: they labeled a color flash superimposed upon initially neutral faces that dynamically morphed into one of four emotions (angry, fearful, sad, happy). Region of interest analyses examined group differences in amygdala activity. For conditions in which adults with MDD displayed abnormal amygdala activity versus HC, within-group analyses examined amygdala activity as a function of scores on a continuous measure of lifetime depression-related and mania-related pathology.
Adults with MDD showed significantly greater right-sided amygdala activity to angry and happy conditions than HC (p<0.05, corrected). Multiple regression analyses revealed that greater right amygdala activity to the happy condition in adults with MDD was associated with higher levels of sub-threshold manic symptoms experienced across the lifespan (p=0.002).
Among depressed adults with MDD, lifetime features of sub-threshold mania were associated with abnormally elevated amygdala activity to emerging happy faces. These findings are a first step toward identifying biomarkers that reflect individual differences in neural mechanisms in MDD, and challenge conventional mood disorder diagnostic boundaries by suggesting that some adults with MDD are characterized by pathophysiologic processes that overlap with bipolar disorder.
PMCID: PMC3773940  PMID: 22571805
3.  Decreased frontal regulation during pain anticipation in unmedicated subjects with major depressive disorder 
Translational Psychiatry  2013;3(3):e239-.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by impaired processing of negative information, possibly due to dysfunction in both, the bottom-up emotional network and top-down modulatory network. By acquiring functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on a pain-anticipation task, we tested the hypothesis that individuals with MDD would show increased negative biasing that may be associated with reduced frontal connectivity. Thirty-one (15 females) unmedicated young adults with current MDD and 22 (11 females) healthy subjects with no history of MDD were recruited. Groups did not differ significantly in age, race, level of education, marital status or gender distribution. fMRI data were collected during an event-related pain-anticipation paradigm, during which subjects were cued to anticipate painful heat stimuli of high or low intensity. All temperature stimuli were applied to each subject's left forearm. We found that relative to healthy comparison subjects, participants with MDD showed significantly stronger responses to high versus low pain anticipation within right ventral anterior insula (AI), but overlapping response within right dorsal AI, which correlated positively with the depression symptoms severity in the MDD group. Functional connectivity analyses showed increased functional connectivity between dorsal insula and posterior thalamus and decreased functional connectivity between dorsal insula and the right inferior frontal gyrus in the MDD compared with the non-MDD group. Our results demonstrate that unmedicated individuals with current MDD compared with healthy never-depressed subjects show both differential and overlapping response within AI during anticipation of pain. Furthermore, the overlapping insular response is less regulated by frontal brain systems and is more subservient to affective processing regions in the posterior thalamus in MDD. These results support and provide functional validation of the co-occurring enhanced ‘bottom-up' and attenuated ‘top-down' processing of salient, unpleasant emotional information in MDD.
PMCID: PMC3625914  PMID: 23481626
depression; emotion; fMRI; imaging; insula; modulation
4.  Relationship of Emotional Processing to Masked Faces in the Amygdala to Mood State and Treatment in Major Depressive Disorder 
Archives of General Psychiatry  2010;67(11):1128-1138.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with behavioral and neurophysiological evidence for mood-congruent processing biases toward explicitly presented, emotionally-valenced stimuli. However, few studies have investigated such biases toward implicitly presented stimuli.
To investigate differential amygdala responses to sad, happy and neutral faces presented below the level of explicit conscious awareness using a backward masking task in unmedicated subjects with MDD and healthy controls.
Initial cross-sectional design followed by a longitudinal treatment trial using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Psychiatric outpatient clinic at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Twenty-two unmedicated, currently-depressed subjects with MDD (dMDD), 16 unmedicated subjects with MDD in full remission (rMDD), and 25 healthy controls (HC).
Ten dMDD subjects underwent 8 weeks of antidepressant treatment with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, sertraline.
Main Outcome Measures
Amygdala region-of-interest and whole brain analyses evaluated the hemodynamic response during exposure to masked-sad versus masked-happy faces, to masked-sad versus neutral faces, and to masked-happy versus neutral faces.
dMDD subjects showed greater amygdala responses than HC to masked-sad faces, while HC subjects showed greater amygdala responses to masked-happy faces. The bias toward sad faces also was evident in the rMDD relative to HC subjects and did not differ between the dMDD and rMDD subjects. This processing bias reversed toward the normative pattern in the dMDD subjects following sertraline treatment.
Emotional processing biases occur in the amygdala to sad faces presented below conscious awareness in currently-depressed or remitted-MDD subjects and to happy faces in controls. By influencing the salience of social stimuli, mood-congruent processing biases in the amygdala may contribute to dysfunction in conscious perceptions and social interactions in MDD. Our data suggest, however, that the negative bias resolves and a positive bias develops in MDD subjects during selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment.
PMCID: PMC3253452  PMID: 21041614
5.  Mismatch Negativity of Sad Syllables Is Absent in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91995.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is an important and highly prevalent mental disorder characterized by anhedonia and a lack of interest in everyday activities. Additionally, patients with MDD appear to have deficits in various cognitive abilities. Although a number of studies investigating the central auditory processing of low-level sound features in patients with MDD have demonstrated that this population exhibits impairments in automatic processing, the influence of emotional voice processing has yet to be addressed. To explore the automatic processing of emotional prosodies in patients with MDD, we analyzed the ability to detect automatic changes using event-related potentials (ERPs).
This study included 18 patients with MDD and 22 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. Subjects were instructed to watch a silent movie but to ignore the afferent acoustic emotional prosodies presented to both ears while continuous electroencephalographic activity was synchronously recorded. Prosodies included meaningless syllables, such as “dada” spoken with happy, angry, sad, or neutral tones. The mean amplitudes of the ERPs elicited by emotional stimuli and the peak latency of the emotional differential waveforms were analyzed.
The sad MMN was absent in patients with MDD, whereas the happy and angry MMN components were similar across groups. The abnormal sad emotional MMN component was not significantly correlated with the HRSD-17 and HAMA scores, respectively.
The data indicate that patients with MDD are impaired in their ability to automatically process sad prosody, whereas their ability to process happy and angry prosodies remains normal. The dysfunctional sad emotion-related MMN in patients with MDD were not correlated with depression symptoms. The blunted MMN of sad prosodies could be considered a trait of MDD.
PMCID: PMC3962367  PMID: 24658084
6.  Demographic Correlates of DSM-IV Major Depressive Disorder among Older African Americans, Black Caribbeans, and Non-Hispanic Whites: Results from the National Survey of American Life 
To examine the demographic correlates of lifetime and 12-month prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD) among older African Americans, Black Caribbeans, and non-Hispanic Whites.
Data are from adults age 55 years and older (n = 1439) recruited to the National Survey of American Life (NSAL; 2001–2003). The DSM-IV World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used to assess 12-month and lifetime MDD. Weighted logistic regression was used to model demographic correlates of MDD.
The population prevalence of lifetime and 12-month MDD were 11.2% and 4.1%, respectively. Bivariate analyses revealed that younger respondents and those with greater disability had a higher prevalence of both lifetime and 12-month MDD compared to those who were older and had lower disability. Multivariable logistic regressions controlling for demographic characteristics revealed that non-Hispanic Whites had the greatest odds of lifetime MDD (OR = 2.27, 95% CI = 1.32, 3.93). Women had significantly greater odds of lifetime MDD compared to men (OR = 2.49, 95% CI = 1.14, 5.41); there were no gender differences in 12-month MDD. Other significant predictors of MDD were marital status and region of residence.
The distribution, correlates, and nature of associations with MDD vary as a function of whether we examined lifetime vs. 12-month MDD. Future work should account for within group differences among older adults with depression. Understanding MDD correlates and the nature of intergroup diversity can inform the identification of particularly vulnerable subgroups as well as appropriate treatment approaches.
PMCID: PMC3418432  PMID: 22038674
depression; Caribbean Blacks; race; ethnicity gender; disability; marital status
7.  Abnormal Left-Sided Orbitomedial Prefrontal Cortical–Amygdala Connectivity during Happy and Fear Face Processing: A Potential Neural Mechanism of Female MDD 
Background: Pathophysiologic processes supporting abnormal emotion regulation in major depressive disorder (MDD) are poorly understood. We previously found abnormal inverse left-sided ventromedial prefrontal cortical–amygdala effective connectivity to happy faces in females with MDD. We aimed to replicate and expand this previous finding in an independent participant sample, using a more inclusive neural model, and a novel emotion processing paradigm. Methods: Nineteen individuals with MDD in depressed episode (12 females), and 19 healthy individuals, age, and gender matched, performed an implicit emotion processing and automatic attentional control paradigm to examine abnormalities in prefrontal cortical–amygdala neural circuitry during happy, angry, fearful, and sad face processing measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging in a 3-T scanner. Effective connectivity was estimated with dynamic causal modeling in a trinodal neural model including two anatomically defined prefrontal cortical regions, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and subgenual cingulate cortex (sgACC), and the amygdala. Results: We replicated our previous finding of abnormal inverse left-sided top-down ventromedial prefrontal cortical–amygdala connectivity to happy faces in females with MDD (p = 0.04), and also showed a similar pattern of abnormal inverse left-sided sgACC–amygdala connectivity to these stimuli (p = 0.03). These findings were paralleled by abnormally reduced positive left-sided ventromedial prefrontal cortical–sgACC connectivity to happy faces in females with MDD (p = 0.008), and abnormally increased positive left-sided sgACC–amygdala connectivity to fearful faces in females, and all individuals, with MDD (p = 0.008; p = 0.003). Conclusion: Different patterns of abnormal prefrontal cortical–amygdala connectivity to happy and fearful stimuli might represent neural mechanisms for the excessive self-reproach and comorbid anxiety that characterize female MDD.
PMCID: PMC3233901  PMID: 22163223
major depressive disorder; effective connectivity; emotion regulation; dynamic causal modeling; amygdala; prefrontal cortex
8.  Pathways linking socioeconomic status to obesity through depression and lifestyle factors among young US adults 
Journal of affective disorders  2009;123(1-3):52-63.
Obesity and depression are two diseases of major public health importance. While both correlate with each other, potential pathways involving depression that would link socioeconomic status (SES) to lifestyle factors and obesity have not been systematically examined using nationally representative data. Using rich data on 2,217 US young adults aged 20–39 years from the 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Surveys (NHANES) and multivariate linear and logistic regression models, we examined associations between major depressive disorder (MDD), dietary intake, physical activity (PA), and measured body mass index (BMI) controlling for socio-demographic factors. Further, structural equations models (SEM) were fit to test pathway explaining SES disparities in BMI through MDD and lifestyle factors. Recent prevalence of MDD was lower among young US men than women (6.4% vs 9.2%) although their prevalence of obesity was similar (21.2% vs 22.7%). Among women, MDD was associated with higher BMI and inversely associated with PA, but not among men. MDD was specifically associated with increased risk of morbid obesity (BMI≥40) among women (OR: 2.88 (1.32, 6.30)). Using SEM, a main pathway linking SES to BMI among women was that linking SES → food insecurity → MDD → PA → BMI. A main pathway linking MDD to BMI in both genders was that going through PA rather than overall dietary quality. Gender and ethnic differences existed underlying how MDD, SES and lifestyle factors were associated with adiposity. Future prospective studies are needed to examine potential mechanisms using physiological markers of depression, lifestyle and obesity.
PMCID: PMC2860015  PMID: 19853306
Depression; body mass index; obesity; socio-economic status; diet; physical activity
9.  Burden of Depressive Disorders by Country, Sex, Age, and Year: Findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(11):e1001547.
In this paper, Ferrari and colleagues analyzed the burden of depressive disorders in GBD 2010 and identified depressive disorders as a leading cause of burden. The authors present severity proportions; burden by country, region, age, sex, and year; as well as burden of depressive disorders as a risk factor for suicide and ischemic heart disease.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Depressive disorders were a leading cause of burden in the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 1990 and 2000 studies. Here, we analyze the burden of depressive disorders in GBD 2010 and present severity proportions, burden by country, region, age, sex, and year, as well as burden of depressive disorders as a risk factor for suicide and ischemic heart disease.
Methods and Findings
Burden was calculated for major depressive disorder (MDD) and dysthymia. A systematic review of epidemiological data was conducted. The data were pooled using a Bayesian meta-regression. Disability weights from population survey data quantified the severity of health loss from depressive disorders. These weights were used to calculate years lived with disability (YLDs) and disability adjusted life years (DALYs). Separate DALYs were estimated for suicide and ischemic heart disease attributable to depressive disorders.
Depressive disorders were the second leading cause of YLDs in 2010. MDD accounted for 8.2% (5.9%–10.8%) of global YLDs and dysthymia for 1.4% (0.9%–2.0%). Depressive disorders were a leading cause of DALYs even though no mortality was attributed to them as the underlying cause. MDD accounted for 2.5% (1.9%–3.2%) of global DALYs and dysthymia for 0.5% (0.3%–0.6%). There was more regional variation in burden for MDD than for dysthymia; with higher estimates in females, and adults of working age. Whilst burden increased by 37.5% between 1990 and 2010, this was due to population growth and ageing. MDD explained 16 million suicide DALYs and almost 4 million ischemic heart disease DALYs. This attributable burden would increase the overall burden of depressive disorders from 3.0% (2.2%–3.8%) to 3.8% (3.0%–4.7%) of global DALYs.
GBD 2010 identified depressive disorders as a leading cause of burden. MDD was also a contributor of burden allocated to suicide and ischemic heart disease. These findings emphasize the importance of including depressive disorders as a public-health priority and implementing cost-effective interventions to reduce its burden.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Depressive disorders are common mental disorders that occur in people of all ages across all world regions. Depression—an overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness that can last for months or years—can make people feel that life is no longer worth living. People affected by depression lose interest in the activities they used to enjoy and can also be affected by physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep. Major depressive disorder (MDD, also known as clinical depression) is an episodic disorder with a chronic (long-term) outcome and increased risk of death. It involves at least one major depressive episode in which the affected individual experiences a depressed mood almost all day, every day for at least 2 weeks. Dysthymia is a milder, chronic form of depression that lasts for at least 2 years. People with dysthymia are often described as constantly unhappy. Both these subtypes of depression (and others such as that experienced in bipolar disorder) can be treated with antidepressant drugs and with talking therapies.
Why Was This Study Done?
Depressive disorders were a leading cause of disease burden in the 1990 and 2000 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) studies, collaborative scientific efforts that quantify the health loss attributable to diseases and injuries in terms of disability adjusted life years (DALYs; one DALY represents the loss of a healthy year of life). DALYs are calculated by adding together the years of life lived with a disability (YLD, a measure that includes a disability weight factor reflecting disease severity) and the years of life lost because of disorder-specific premature death. The GBD initiative aims to provide data that can be used to improve public-health policy. Thus, knowing that depressive disorders are a leading cause of disease burden worldwide has helped to prioritize depressive disorders in global public-health agendas. Here, the researchers analyze the burden of MDD and dysthymia in GBD 2010 by country, region, age, and sex, and calculate the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease attributable to depressive disorders (depression is a risk factor for suicide and ischemic heart disease). GBD 2010 is broader in scope than previous GBD studies and quantifies the direct burden of 291 diseases and injuries and the burden attributable to 67 risk factors across 187 countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected data on the prevalence, incidence, remission rates, and duration of MDD and dysthymia and on the excess deaths caused by these disorders from published articles. They pooled these data using a statistical method called Bayesian meta-regression and calculated YLDs for MDD and dysthymia using disability weights collected in population surveys. MDD accounted for 8.2% of global YLDs in 2010, making it the second leading cause of YLDs. Dysthymia accounted for 1.4% of global YLDs. MDD and dysthymia were also leading causes of DALYs, accounting for 2.5% and 0.5% of global DALYs, respectively. The regional variation in the burden was greater for MDD than for dysthymia, the burden of depressive disorders was higher in women than men, the largest proportion of YLDs from depressive disorders occurred among adults of working age, and the global burden of depressive disorders increased by 37.5% between 1990 and 2010 because of population growth and ageing. Finally, MDD explained an additional 16 million DALYs and 4 million DALYs when it was considered as a risk factor for suicide and ischemic heart disease, respectively. This “attributable” burden increased the overall burden of depressive disorders to 3.8% of global DALYs.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings update and extend the information available from GBD 1990 and 2000 on the global burden of depressive disorders. They confirm that depressive disorders are a leading direct cause of the global disease burden and show that MDD also contributes to the burden allocated to suicide and ischemic heart disease. The estimates of the global burden of depressive disorders reported in GBD 2010 are likely to be more accurate than those in previous GBD studies but are limited by factors such as the sparseness of data on depressive disorders from developing countries and the validity of the disability weights used to calculate YLDs. Even so, these findings reinforce the importance of treating depressive disorders as a public-health priority and of implementing cost-effective interventions to reduce their ubiquitous burden.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institute of Mental Health provides information on all aspects of depression
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides detailed information about depression and includes personal stories about depression
More personal stories about depression are available from
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about depression (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information on depression and on the global burden of disease (in several languages)
Information about the Global Burden of Disease initiative is available
beyondblue provides many resources on depression
The Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research provides information on epidemiology and the global burden of disease specifically for mental disorders
PMCID: PMC3818162  PMID: 24223526
10.  Increased Affective Bias Revealed Using Experimental Graded Heat Stimuli in Young Depressed Adults: Evidence of “Emotional Allodynia” 
Psychosomatic medicine  2008;70(3):338-344.
Pain and depression often occur together. Pain is both a sensation and an affective experience. Similarly, depression is associated frequently with somatic symptoms as well as emotional dysphoria. Existing evidence indicates that major depressive disorder (MDD) may be associated with altered pain processing. However, the extent to which alterations in experimentally controlled heat pain sensations are related to increased affective bias in MDD is unknown. This psychophysical study examined the hypothesis that young adults with MDD would show increased affective bias to painful and non-painful experimental heat stimuli, as evidenced by an increased responsiveness to warm and hot temperatures.
Graded non-noxious and noxious heat stimuli were delivered randomly with a thermode applied to the volar surface of the left arm of 15 unmedicated subjects with current MDD and 15 age- and gender-matched healthy comparison subjects. MDD and non-MDD subjects rated the intensity and unpleasantness of all stimuli.
Two main results were observed. Firstly, MDD relative to non-MDD subjects showed decreased heat pain thresholds. Secondly, a significantly increased affective bias (= unpleasantness/intensity) was observed in MDD subjects, particularly over the range of non-noxious heat stimuli. This bias was independent of the change in sensory pain thresholds.
These findings represent corroborative evidence of abnormal affective heat pain processing in young adults with MDD, and suggest that MDD is associated with “emotional allodynia”, a qualitatively altered negative emotional response to normally non-aversive thermal stimuli.
PMCID: PMC2742693  PMID: 18378870
psychophysics; allodynia; MDD; thermode; heat; nociception
11.  Functional connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex in medication-naive individuals with major depressive disorder 
Convergent evidence suggests dysfunction within the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and amygdala, important components of a neural system that subserves emotional processing, in individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). Abnormalities in this system in the left hemisphere and during processing of negative emotional stimuli are especially implicated. In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate amygdala–PFC functional connectivity during emotional face processing in medication-naive individuals with MDD.
Individuals with MDD and healthy controls underwent fMRI scanning while processing 3 types of emotional face stimuli. We compared the strength of functional connectivity from the amygdala between the MDD and control groups.
Our study included 28 individuals with MDD and 30 controls. Decreased amygdala–left rostral PFC (rPFC) functional connectivity was observed in the MDD group compared with controls for the fear condition (p < 0.05, corrected). No significant differences were found in amygdala connectivity to any cerebral regions between the MDD and control groups for the happy or neutral conditions.
All participants with MDD were experiencing acute episodes, therefore the findings could not be generalized to the entire MDD population.
Medication-naive individuals with MDD showed decreased amygdala–left rPFC functional connectivity in response to negative emotional stimuli, suggesting that abnormalities in amygdala–left rPFC neural circuitry responses to negative emotional stimuli might play an important role in the pathophysiology of MDD.
PMCID: PMC3819156  PMID: 24148846
12.  Amygdala and whole brain activity to emotional faces distinguishes major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder 
Bipolar disorders  2013;15(7):741-752.
It can be clinically difficult to distinguish depressed individuals with bipolar disorder (BD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). To examine potential biomarkers of difference between the two disorders, the current study examined differences in the functioning of emotion processing neural regions during a dynamic emotional faces task.
During functional magnetic resonance imaging, healthy control adults (HC) (n = 29) and depressed adults with MDD (n = 30) and BD (n = 22) performed an implicit emotional-faces task in which they identified a color label superimposed on neutral faces that dynamically morphed into one of four emotional faces (angry, fearful, sad, happy). We compared neural activation between the groups in an amygdala region-of-interest and at the whole brain level.
Adults with MDD showed significantly greater activity than adults with BD in the left amygdala to the anger condition (p = 0.01). Results of whole brain analyses (at p < 0.005, k ≥ 20) revealed that adults with BD showed greater activity to sad faces in temporoparietal regions, primarily in the left hemisphere, whereas individuals with MDD demonstrated greater activity than those with BD to displays of anger, fear, and happiness. Many of the observed BD–MDD differences represented abnormalities in functioning compared to HC.
We observed a dissociation between depressed adults with BD and MDD in the processing of emerging emotional faces. Those with BD showed greater activity during mood-congruent (i.e., sad) faces, whereas, those with MDD showed greater activity for mood-incongruent (i.e., fear, anger, and happy) faces. Such findings may reflect markers of differences between BD and MDD depression in underlying pathophysiological processes.
PMCID: PMC3864629  PMID: 23911154
amygdala; bipolar disorder; brain imaging; emotion processing; major depressive disorder; whole brain
13.  Piccolo genotype modulates neural correlates of emotion processing but not executive functioning 
Translational Psychiatry  2012;2(4):e99-.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by affective symptoms and cognitive impairments, which have been associated with changes in limbic and prefrontal activity as well as with monoaminergic neurotransmission. A genome-wide association study implicated the polymorphism rs2522833 in the piccolo (PCLO) gene—involved in monoaminergic neurotransmission—as a risk factor for MDD. However, the role of the PCLO risk allele in emotion processing and executive function or its effect on their neural substrate has never been studied. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate PCLO risk allele carriers vs noncarriers during an emotional face processing task and a visuospatial planning task in 159 current MDD patients and healthy controls. In PCLO risk allele carriers, we found increased activity in the left amygdala during processing of angry and sad faces compared with noncarriers, independent of psychopathological status. During processing of fearful faces, the PCLO risk allele was associated with increased amygdala activation in MDD patients only. During the visuospatial planning task, we found no genotype effect on performance or on BOLD signal in our predefined areas as a function of increasing task load. The PCLO risk allele was found to be specifically associated with altered emotion processing, but not with executive dysfunction. Moreover, the PCLO risk allele appears to modulate amygdala function during fearful facial processing in MDD and may constitute a possible link between genotype and susceptibility for depression via altered processing of fearful stimuli. The current results may therefore aid in better understanding underlying neurobiological mechanisms in MDD.
PMCID: PMC3337071  PMID: 22832909
emotion processing; executive function; genome-wide association; major depressive disorder; neuroimaging genetics; PCLO
14.  Stress Response Circuitry Hypoactivation Related to Hormonal Dysfunction in Women with Major Depression 
Journal of affective disorders  2010;131(1-3):379-387.
Women have approximately twice the risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) than men, yet this difference remains largely unexplained. Previous MDD research suggests high rates of endocrine dysfunction, which may be related to deficits in brain activity in stress response circuitry [hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)]. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the relationship between hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG)-axis hormones and stress response circuitry dysfunction in MDD in women.
During the late follicular/midcycle phase of the menstrual cycle, female participants (10 with extensive histories of MDD, in remission, 10 healthy controls) were scanned while viewing negative and neutral arousal pictures. Group differences in blood oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signal changes were analyzed using SPM2. Baseline gonadal hormones included estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone.
fMRI results showed greater BOLD signal intensity changes in controls versus MDD in hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, OFC, ACC, and subgenual ACC, findings unrelated to medication status. MDD women had a lower serum estradiol and higher serum progesterone compared to controls. Hypoactivations in hypothalamus, subgenual ACC, amygdala and OFC in MDD were associated with low estradiol and high progesterone.
Generalizability of our findings is limited by small sample size and restriction to females, although this did not affect the internal validity of the results.
Hypoactivation of the stress response circuitry in MDD women is associated with dysregulation of the HPG-axis. Associations between brain activity deficits and hormonal disruption in MDD may ultimately contribute to understanding sex differences in MDD.
PMCID: PMC3073153  PMID: 21183223
Depression; stress; hormones; fMRI; HPG; women’s mental health; mood; HPA
15.  Recruitment of the left hemispheric emotional attention neural network in risk for and protection from depression 
Family history of major depressive disorder (MDD) increases individuals’ vulnerability to depression and alters the way depression manifests itself. Emotion processing and attention shifting are functions altered by MDD and family history of the disease; therefore, it is important to recognize the neural correlates of these functions in association with both factors.
Our study determines neural correlates of emotion processing and attention shifting for healthy individuals and patients with MDD with and without family history of depression. We compared the performance and neural activity in a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment examining emotion processing and attention shifting in all participants.
Our sample included 4 study groups: healthy controls without family history of depression (n = 25), patients with MDD without family history of the disease (n = 20), unaffected healthy first-degree relatives of patients with MDD (n = 21) and patients with MDD with family history of MDD (n = 30). Compared with healthy controls, unaffected first-degree relatives overactivate the somatosensory cortex and the attention controlling areas during both emotion processing and attention shifting. Patients with family history of MDD have stronger neural activation in subcortical areas during shifting attention from negative stimuli. Patients without family history of MDD have less activation in the paralimbic regions and more activation in core limbic areas, especially during emotion processing.
The conclusions about the intergroup differences in activation can be drawn only about neural areas engaged in the task.
Unaffected first-degree relatives of patients with MDD overreact to external emotional cues and compensate for the vulnerability with increased involvement of executive control. Patients with a family history of MDD have less executive control over their attentional shifts in the face of negative stimuli. Patients without a family history of MDD process emotional stimuli in a more visceral way than controls.
PMCID: PMC3581592  PMID: 23010257
16.  Major Depressive Disorder is Associated with Altered Functional Brain Response During Anticipation and Processing of Heat Pain 
Archives of general psychiatry  2008;65(11):1275-1284.
Chronic pain and depression are highly comorbid conditions, yet little is known about the neurobiological basis of pain processing in major depressive disorder (MDD).
To examine the neural substrates underlying anticipation and processing of heat pain in a group of unmedicated young adults with current MDD.
Functional magnetic resonance neuroimaging (fMRI) data were collected during an event-related factorial experimental pain paradigm. Painful and non-painful heat stimuli were applied to the left volar forearm while different color shapes explicitly signaled the intensity of the upcoming stimulus.
University brain imaging center.
15 (12 F) young adults with current MDD and 15 (10F) healthy subjects with no history of MDD were recruited and matched for age and level of education. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV was administered to all participants by a board-certified psychiatrist.
Main Outcome measure
Between-group differences in blood oxygen level-dependent fMRI signal change to anticipation and processing of painful versus non-painful temperature stimuli.
MDD compared to healthy controls showed: (1) increased activation in right anterior insular region, dorsal anterior cingulate and right amygdala during anticipation of painful relative to non-painful stimuli, (2) increased activation in right amygdala and decreased activation in periaqueductal gray, rostral anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortices during painful stimulation relative to non-painful stimulation, and (3) in MDD subjects greater activation in the right amygdala during anticipation of pain was associated with greater levels of perceived helplessness.
These findings suggest that increased emotional reactivity during the anticipation of heat pain may lead to an impaired ability to modulate pain experience in MDD. Future studies should examine the degree to which altered functional brain response during anticipatory processing affects ability to modulate negative affective states in MDD, which is a core characteristic of this disorder.
PMCID: PMC2702160  PMID: 18981339
17.  Functional Connectivity of the Amygdala in Early Childhood Onset Depression 
Adult major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with reduced cortico-limbic functional connectivity thought to indicate decreased top-down control of emotion. However, it is unclear whether such connectivity alterations are also present in early childhood onset MDD.
Fifty-one children ages 7–11 years, prospectively studied since preschool age, completed resting state fMRI and were assigned to four groups: 1) C-MDD (N=13) personal history of early childhood onset MDD; 2) M-MDD (N=11) a maternal history of affective disorders; 3) CM-MDD (N=13) both maternal and early childhood onset MDD or 4) CON (N=14) without either a personal or maternal history. We used seed-based resting state functional connectivity (rsfcMRI) analysis in an independent sample of adults to identify networks showing both positive (e.g., limbic regions) and negative (e.g., dorsal frontal/parietal regions) connectivity with the amygdala. These regions were then used in ROI based analyses of our child sample.
We found a significant interaction between maternal affective disorder history and the child's MDD history for both positive and negative rsfcMRI networks. Specifically, when copared to CON, we found reduced connectivity between the amygdala and the “Negative Network” in children with C-MDD, M-MDD and CM-MDD. Children with either C-MDD or a maternal history of MDD (but not CM-MDD) displayed reduced connectivity between the amygdala and the “Positive Network”.
Our finding of an attenuated relationship between the amygdala, a region affected in MDD and involved in emotion processing, and cognitive control regions is consistent with a hypothesis of altered regulation of emotional processing in C-MDD suggesting developmental continuity of this alteration into early childhood.
PMCID: PMC3185293  PMID: 21961777
Functional Connectivity; Depression; Amygdala; fMRI; Childhood-Onset
18.  Decreased cognitive control in response to negative information in patients with remitted depression: an event-related potential study 
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with difficulty disengaging attention from emotionally negative information. Few studies have investigated whether euthymic individuals with a history of depression (remitted MDD [rMDD]) show similar deficits, and little is known about concomitant neurophysiological features of such deficits. To fill these gaps, we investigated cognitive control over emotional stimuli in participants with rMDD and controls without history of depression or psychopathology.
We collected 128-channel event-related potentials (ERPs) while participants performed a cued emotional conflict task. During the task, a cue instructed the participant to respond to the actual or opposite valence of an upcoming happy or sad face.
We enrolled 15 individuals with rMDD and 18 controls in our study. Event-related potentials showed no group differences in response to the cues, highlighting preserved preparatory processes when anticipating an emotional conflict. However, relative to the control group, the rMDD group responded more slowly and showed reduced N450 amplitudes on trials that required disengaging from negative faces (pressing “happy” in response to a sad face).
The sample size was small, and the null finding in the cue-locked N2 analyses may be owing to low power.
Our results suggest a selective deficit in cognitive control over sad stimuli in individuals with rMDD. Additional studies will be required to pinpoint whether the current findings stem from impairments in response conflict, conflict monitoring and/or attentional disengagement in response to sad stimuli. Moreover, future studies are warranted to evaluate whether decreased cognitive control in response to negative information might increase the risk for future depressive episodes.
PMCID: PMC3380096  PMID: 22433449
19.  The Temporal Electrocortical Profile of Emotive Facial Processing in Depressed Males and Females and Healthy Controls 
Journal of Affective Disorders  2011;136(3):1072-1081.
Previous work indicates that emotive processing, such as of facial expressions, may be altered in major depressive disorder (MDD). Individuals with MDD tend to exhibit a mood-congruent processing bias, though MDD may also be characterized by blunted emotive processing in general. Females tend to exhibit enhanced facial emotive processing than males. Few groups have examined temporal electrophysiological event-related potential (ERP)-indexed profiles, spanning preconscious to sustained, conscious processing of facial expressions in MDD; systematic comparisons of ERPs to emotive stimuli between depressed males and females are also lacking.
This study examined the temporal ERP profile to a simple expression recognition task in adult depressed males and females (N=52; 29 females) and controls (N=43; 23 females).
The MDD group rated facial expressions as sadder overall than controls. Females exhibited enhanced and speeded pre- and conscious face processing than males. Subtle group differences emerged to specific expressions at mid-latency ERPs (N2, P2) indicating both blunted late pre-conscious perceptual processing of expressions and prolonged processing of intensely sad faces.
A more involved emotive processing task, employing threatening faces, may have revealed more robust group ERP differences. Menstrual cycle should be controlled for in future work.
This is the first study to systematically assess the temporal ERP profile, including of ERPs preceding the face-sensitive N170/VPP, to expressions in MDD. Overall, early perceptual and late conscious expression processing did not differ fundamentally between groups. Altered emotive processing may be a candidate index for monitoring and predicting antidepressant treatment outcome.
PMCID: PMC3288478  PMID: 22127390
Depression; event-related potentials (ERP); emotion; faces; sex
20.  Affective context interferes with cognitive control in unipolar depression: An fMRI investigation 
Journal of affective disorders  2008;114(1-3):131-142.
Unipolar major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by aberrant amygdala responses to sad stimuli and poor cognitive control, but the interactive effects of these impairments are poorly understood.
To evaluate brain activation in MDD in response to cognitive control stimuli embedded within sad and neutral contexts.
Fourteen adults with MDD and fifteen matched controls participated in a mixed block/event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) task that presented oddball target stimuli embedded within blocks of sad or neutral images.
Target events activated similar prefrontal brain regions in both groups. However, responses to target events embedded within blocks of emotional images revealed a clear group dissociation. During neutral blocks, the control group demonstrated greater activation to targets in the midfrontal gyrus and anterior cingulate relative to the MDD group, replicating previous findings of prefrontal hypo-activation in MDD samples to cognitive control stimuli. However, during sad blocks, the MDD group demonstrated greater activation in a number of prefrontal regions, including the mid-, inferior, and orbito-frontal gyri and the anterior cingulate, suggesting that relatively more prefrontal brain activation was required to disengage from the sad images to respond to the target events.
A larger sample size would have provided greater statistical power, and more standardized stimuli would have increased external validity.
This double dissociation of prefrontal responses to target events embedded within neutral and sad context suggests that MDD impacts not only responses to affective events, but extends to other cognitive processes carried out in the context of affective engagement. This implies that emotional reactivity to sad events in MDD may impact functioning more broadly than previously understood.
PMCID: PMC2656256  PMID: 18706701
Unipolar depression; Target detection; Cognitive control; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Prefrontal cortex; Amygdala
21.  Functional brain imaging studies of youth depression: A systematic review☆ 
NeuroImage : Clinical  2013;4:209-231.
There is growing interest in understanding the neurobiology of major depressive disorder (MDD) in youth, particularly in the context of neuroimaging studies. This systematic review provides a timely comprehensive account of the available functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) literature in youth MDD.
A literature search was conducted using PubMED, PsycINFO and Science Direct databases, to identify fMRI studies in younger and older youth with MDD, spanning 13–18 and 19–25 years of age, respectively.
Twenty-eight studies focusing on 5 functional imaging domains were identified, namely emotion processing, cognitive control, affective cognition, reward processing and resting-state functional connectivity. Elevated activity in “extended medial network” regions including the anterior cingulate, ventromedial and orbitofrontal cortices, as well as the amygdala was most consistently implicated across these five domains. For the most part, findings in younger adolescents did not differ from those in older youth; however a general comparison of findings in both groups compared to adults indicated differences in the domains of cognitive control and affective cognition.
Youth MDD is characterized by abnormal activations in ventromedial frontal regions, the anterior cingulate and amygdala, which are broadly consistent with the implicated role of medial network regions in the pathophysiology of depression. Future longitudinal studies examining the effects of neurodevelopmental changes and pubertal maturation on brain systems implicated in youth MDD will provide a more comprehensive neurobiological model of youth depression.
•We provide a systematic review of fMRI studies in youth MDD.•Abnormal function is found in regions of the extended medial prefrontal network.•Findings in youth MDD show some important differences compared to adult MDD.•Future studies need to focus on the effects of puberty on medial network activity.•Longitudinal studies will help inform neurobiological models of youth MDD.
PMCID: PMC3895619  PMID: 24455472
Major depressive disorder (MDD); Youth; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
22.  Individual Differences in Amygdala-Medial Prefrontal Anatomy Link Negative Affect, Impaired Social Functioning, and Polygenic Depression Risk 
Individual differences in affective and social processes may arise from variability in amygdala-medial prefrontal (mPFC) circuitry and related genetic heterogeneity. To explore this possibility in humans, we examined the structural correlates of trait negative affect in a sample of 1050 healthy young adults with no history of psychiatric illness. Analyses revealed that heightened negative affect was associated with increased amygdala volume and reduced thickness in a left mPFC region encompassing the subgenual and rostral anterior cingulate cortex. The most extreme individuals displayed an inverse correlation between amygdala volume and mPFC thickness, suggesting that imbalance between these structures is linked to negative affect in the general population. Subgroups of participants were further evaluated on social (n = 206) and emotional (n = 533) functions. Individuals with decreased mPFC thickness exhibited the poorest social cognition and were least able to correctly identify facial emotion. Given prior links between disrupted amygdala–mPFC circuitry and the presence of major depressive disorder (MDD), we explored whether the individual differences in anatomy observed here in healthy young adults were associated with polygenic risk for MDD (n = 438) using risk scores derived from a large genome-wide association analysis (n = 18,759). Analyses revealed associations between increasing polygenic burden for MDD and reduced cortical thickness in the left mPFC. These collective findings suggest that, within the healthy population, there is significant variability in amygdala–mPFC circuitry that is associated with poor functioning across affective and social domains. Individual differences in this circuitry may arise, in part, from common genetic variability that contributes to risk for MDD.
PMCID: PMC3674506  PMID: 23238724
23.  Is There a Valence-Specific Pattern in Emotional Conflict in Major Depressive Disorder? An Exploratory Psychological Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31983.
Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) clinically exhibit a deficit in positive emotional processing and are often distracted by especially negative emotional stimuli. Such emotional-cognitive interference in turn hampers the cognitive abilities of patients in their ongoing task. While the psychological correlates of such emotional conflict have been well identified in healthy subjects, possible alterations of emotional conflict in depressed patients remain to be investigated. We conducted an exploratory psychological study to investigate emotional conflict in MDD. We also distinguished depression-related stimuli from negative stimuli in order to check whether the depression-related distractors will induce enhanced conflict in MDD.
A typical word-face Stroop paradigm was adopted. In order to account for valence-specificities in MDD, we included positive and general negative as well as depression-related words in the study.
MDD patients demonstrated a specific pattern of emotional conflict clearly distinguishable from the healthy control group. In MDD, the positive distractor words did not significantly interrupt the processing of the negative target faces, while they did in healthy subjects. On the other hand, the depression-related distractor words induced significant emotional conflict to the positive target faces in MDD patients but not in the healthy control group.
Our findings demonstrated for the first time an altered valence-specific pattern in emotional conflict in MDD patients. The study sheds a novel and specific light on the affective mechanisms underlying the abnormal emotional-cognitive interference in MDD. Such emotional conflict bears important clinical relevance since it may trigger the widespread cognitive dysfunctions frequently observed in MDD. The present findings may have important clinical implications in both prediction and psychotherapy of MDD.
PMCID: PMC3282781  PMID: 22363782
24.  BDNF Gene Polymorphism (Val66Met) Predicts Amygdala and Anterior Hippocampus Responses to Emotional Faces in Anxious and Depressed Adolescents 
NeuroImage  2009;53(3):952-961.
A polymorphism of the human Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) gene that produces a valine-to-methionine substitution at codon 66 (Val66Met), is linked to adult anxiety and mood disorders, possibly through effects on brain circuitry function. Associations between BDNF gene variants and brain activity have not been explored in anxious and depressed adolescents. The current study investigated the association between BDNF genotype and amygdala-hippocampal responses to emotional stimuli in adolescents with anxiety disorders and/or major depressive disorder (MDD) and in healthy adolescents. Twenty-seven unmedicated patients with acutely-impairing current anxiety disorders and/or MDD and 31 healthy adolescents, matched on age, gender and IQ, rated their fear of fearful, angry, neutral and happy facial expressions during collection of fMRI data on the amygdala and hippocampus. Left and right amygdala and hippocampal responses were analyzed using Repeated-measures Analyses of Variance models, with Diagnosis (patients, healthy) and Genotype (Met-carriers, Val/Val homozygotes) as between-group factors and facial expression (fearful, angry, neutral, happy) as a within-subject factor. Significant effects of Diagnosis and Diagnosis-by-Genotype interactions (F’s>4, p’s<.05) characterized activations in amygdala and anterior hippocampal regions. Greater activations in patients than healthy adolescents were found. Critically, these hyperactivations were modulated by BDNF genotype: Met-carriers showed greater neural responses of emotional faces than Val/Val homozygotes in patients only. These data are first to demonstrate the contribution of BDNF gene variants to the neural correlates of adolescent anxiety and depression. Early “gene-brain” linkages may lay the foundation for longer-term patterns of neural dysfunction in affective disorders.
PMCID: PMC2888869  PMID: 19931400
Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor Gene; adolescence; anxiety; depression; medial temporal lobe; fMRI; development
25.  Judgment of emotional information expressed by prosody and semantics in patients with unipolar depression 
It was the aim of this study to investigate the impact of major depressive disorder (MDD) on judgment of emotions expressed at the verbal (semantic content) and non-verbal (prosody) level and to assess whether evaluation of verbal content correlate with self-ratings of depression-related symptoms as assessed by Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). We presented positive, neutral, and negative words spoken in happy, neutral, and angry prosody to 23 MDD patients and 22 healthy controls (HC) matched for age, sex, and education. Participants rated the valence of semantic content or prosody on a 9-point scale. MDD patients attributed significantly less intense ratings to positive words and happy prosody than HC. For judgment of words, this difference correlated significantly with BDI scores. No such correlation was found for prosody perception. MDD patients exhibited attenuated processing of positive information which generalized across verbal and non-verbal channels. These findings indicate that MDD is characterized by impairments of positive rather than negative emotional processing, a finding which could influence future psychotherapeutic strategies as well as provide straightforward hypotheses for neuroimaging studies investigating the neurobiological correlates of impaired emotional perception in MDD.
PMCID: PMC3719008  PMID: 23888149
depression; anhedonia; emotion; semantic content; prosody

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