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Biol Psychiatry. 2005 Feb 1;57(3):201-9.

A differential pattern of neural response toward sad versus happy facial expressions in major depressive disorder.

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  • 1Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London.



Accurate recognition of facial expressions is crucial for social functioning. In depressed individuals, implicit and explicit attentional biases away from happy and toward sad stimuli have been demonstrated. These may be associated with the negative cognitions in these individuals.


Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), neural responses to happy and sad facial expressions were measured in 14 healthy individuals and 16 individuals with major depressive disorder.


Healthy but not depressed individuals demonstrated linear increases in response in bilateral fusiform gyri and right putamen to expressions of increasing happiness, while depressed individuals demonstrated linear increases in response in left putamen, left parahippocampal gyrus/amygdala, and right fusiform gyrus to expressions of increasing sadness. There was a negative correlation in depressed individuals between depression severity and magnitude of neural response within right fusiform gyrus to happy expressions.


Our findings indicate preferential increases in neural response to sad but not happy facial expressions in neural regions involved in the processing of emotional stimuli in depressed individuals. These findings may be associated with the above pattern of implicit and explicit attentional biases in these individuals and suggest a potential neural basis for the negative cognitions and social dysfunction in major depression.

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