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Brain. 2017 Apr 1;140(4):1147-1157. doi: 10.1093/brain/awx025.

Neural mechanisms of reinforcement learning in unmedicated patients with major depressive disorder.

Author information

1
Visual Perception Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Campus Charité Mitte, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
2
Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging (BCAN), Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Abstract

According to current concepts, major depressive disorder is strongly related to dysfunctional neural processing of motivational information, entailing impairments in reinforcement learning. While computational modelling can reveal the precise nature of neural learning signals, it has not been used to study learning-related neural dysfunctions in unmedicated patients with major depressive disorder so far. We thus aimed at comparing the neural coding of reward and punishment prediction errors, representing indicators of neural learning-related processes, between unmedicated patients with major depressive disorder and healthy participants. To this end, a group of unmedicated patients with major depressive disorder (n = 28) and a group of age- and sex-matched healthy control participants (n = 30) completed an instrumental learning task involving monetary gains and losses during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The two groups did not differ in their learning performance. Patients and control participants showed the same level of prediction error-related activity in the ventral striatum and the anterior insula. In contrast, neural coding of reward prediction errors in the medial orbitofrontal cortex was reduced in patients. Moreover, neural reward prediction error signals in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum showed negative correlations with anhedonia severity. Using a standard instrumental learning paradigm we found no evidence for an overall impairment of reinforcement learning in medication-free patients with major depressive disorder. Importantly, however, the attenuated neural coding of reward in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and the relation between anhedonia and reduced reward prediction error-signalling in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum likely reflect an impairment in experiencing pleasure from rewarding events as a key mechanism of anhedonia in major depressive disorder.

KEYWORDS:

anhedonia; depression; model-based functional MRI; punishment; reward

PMID:
28334960
DOI:
10.1093/brain/awx025
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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