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Psychiatry Res. 2012 Apr 30;202(1):30-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2011.11.004. Epub 2012 May 16.

Prefrontal cortical response to emotional faces in individuals with major depressive disorder in remission.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.


Abnormalities in the response of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) to negative emotional stimuli have been reported in acutely depressed patients. However, there is a paucity of studies conducted in unmedicated individuals with major depressive disorder in remission (rMDD) to assess whether these are trait abnormalities. To address this issue, 19 medication-free rMDD individuals and 20 healthy comparison (HC) participants were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing an implicit emotion processing task in which they labeled the gender of faces depicting negative (fearful), positive (happy) and neutral facial expressions. The rMDD and HC groups were compared using a region-of-interest approach for two contrasts: fear vs. neutral and happy vs. neutral. Relative to HC, rMDD showed reduced activation in left OFC and DLPFC to fearful (vs. neutral) faces. Right DLPFC activation to fearful (vs. neutral) faces in the rMDD group showed a significant positive correlation with duration of euthymia. The findings support deficits in left OFC and DLPFC responses to negative emotional stimuli during euthymic periods of MDD, which may reflect trait markers of the illness or a 'scar' due to previous depression. Recovery may also be associated with compensatory increases in right DLPFC functioning.

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