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Neurosci Res. 2010 Oct;68(2):77-87. doi: 10.1016/j.neures.2010.06.013. Epub 2010 Jul 21.

Depression and the hyperactive right-hemisphere.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N3AR, UK.


Depression is associated with an inter-hemispheric imbalance; a hyperactive right-hemisphere (RH) and a relatively hypoactive left-hemisphere (LH). Nevertheless, the underlying mechanisms which can explain why depression is associated with a RH dominance remain elusive. This article points out the potential links between functional cerebral asymmetries and specific symptoms and features of depression. There is evidence that the RH is selectively involved in processing negative emotions, pessimistic thoughts and unconstructive thinking styles--all which comprise the cognitive phenomenology of depression and in turn contribute to the elevated anxiety, stress and pain associated with the illness. Additionally, the RH mediates vigilance and arousal which may explain the sleep disturbances often reported in depression. The RH had also been linked with self-reflection, accounting for the tendency of depressed individuals to withdraw from their external environments and focus attention inward. Physiologically, RH activation is associated with hyprecortisolemia, which contributes to the deterioration of the immune system functioning and puts depressed patients at a greater risk of developing other illnesses, accounting for depression's high comorbidity with other diseases. Conversely, the LH is specifically involved in processing pleasurable experiences, and its relative attenuation is in line with the symptoms of anhedonia that characterize depression. The LH is also relatively more involved in decision-making processes, accounting for the indecisiveness that is often accompanied with depression.

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