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Psychol Med. 2017 Oct;47(13):2345-2357. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717000861. Epub 2017 Apr 11.

Differences in neural and cognitive response to emotional faces in middle-aged dizygotic twins at familial risk of depression.

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Copenhagen Affective Disorders Research Centre,Copenhagen Psychiatric Centre, Copenhagen University Hospital,Rigshospitalet,Denmark.
Department of Psychiatry,University of Oxford,UK.
Institute of Brain, Behaviour and Mental Health, University of Manchester,UK.
Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance, Centre for Functional and Diagnostic Imaging and Research, Copenhagen University Hospital Hvidovre,Denmark.



Negative bias and aberrant neural processing of emotional faces are trait-marks of depression but findings in healthy high-risk groups are conflicting.


Healthy middle-aged dizygotic twins (N = 42) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): 22 twins had a co-twin history of depression (high-risk) and 20 were without co-twin history of depression (low-risk). During fMRI, participants viewed fearful and happy faces while performing a gender discrimination task. After the scan, they were given a faces dot-probe task, a facial expression recognition task and questionnaires assessing mood, personality traits and coping.


Unexpectedly, high-risk twins showed reduced fear vigilance and lower recognition of fear and happiness relative to low-risk twins. During face processing in the scanner, high-risk twins displayed distinct negative functional coupling between the amygdala and ventral prefrontal cortex and pregenual anterior cingulate. This was accompanied by greater fear-specific fronto-temporal response and reduced fronto-occipital response to all emotional faces relative to baseline. The risk groups showed no differences in mood, subjective state or coping.


Less susceptibility to fearful faces and negative cortico-limbic coupling during emotional face processing may reflect neurocognitive compensatory mechanisms in middle-aged dizygotic twins who remain healthy despite their familial risk of depression.


Depression; emotional faces; emotional processing; endophenotype; fMRI; high-risk; resilience; twins

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