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Psychiatry Res. 2013 Apr 30;212(1):28-35. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2012.11.010. Epub 2013 Mar 6.

Context insensitivity during positive and negative emotional expectancy in depression assessed with functional magnetic resonance imaging.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Mitte, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany.


Patients with depression show an enhanced preoccupation with negative expectations and are often unable to look forward to positive events. Here we studied anticipatory emotional processes in unmedicated depressed patients using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Consistent with a negative processing bias, we hypothesized enhanced responses to negative and attenuated responses to positive expectancy cues in brain areas associated with emotional expectancy. Participants comprised 19 drug-free depressed patients and 19 matched healthy control subjects who viewed affective photographs. Pictures were preceded by an expectancy cue which signaled the emotional valence of the upcoming picture in half of the trials. Depressed patients showed attenuated blood-oxygen-level-dependent responses in the left lateral prefrontal cortex (inferior frontal gyrus, Brodmann area 44) during positive expectancy and-contrary to our hypothesis-in the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex (middle frontal gyrus, Brodmann area 47) during negative expectancy. This attenuation was specific for the anticipation (as opposed to the perception) of emotional pictures and correlated with a clinical measure of depressive symptoms. The observed attenuation suggests emotion-context insensitivity rather than a negative processing bias during anticipatory emotional processes in depression. This hyporeactivity may contribute to clinical features like anergia, apathy, and loss of motivation in the context of both positive and negative incentives.

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