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Am J Psychiatry. 2017 Aug 1;174(8):748-755. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16060637. Epub 2017 Apr 14.

Randomized Clinical Trial of Real-Time fMRI Amygdala Neurofeedback for Major Depressive Disorder: Effects on Symptoms and Autobiographical Memory Recall.

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From the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, Tulsa, Okla.; the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh; the Stephenson School of Biomedical Engineering, University of Oklahoma, Norman; Janssen Research and Development, New Brunswick, N.J.; and the Biomedical Engineering Center, University of Oklahoma College of Engineering, Norman.



Patients with depression show blunted amygdala hemodynamic activity to positive stimuli, including autobiographical memories. The authors examined the therapeutic efficacy of real-time functional MRI neurofeedback (rtfMRI-nf) training aimed at increasing the amygdala's hemodynamic response to positive memories in patients with depression.


In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial, unmedicated adults with depression (N=36) were randomly assigned to receive two sessions of rtfMRI-nf either from the amygdala (N=19) or from a parietal control region not involved in emotional processing (N=17). Clinical scores and autobiographical memory performance were assessed at baseline and 1 week after the final rtfMRI-nf session. The primary outcome measure was change in score on the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), and the main analytic approach consisted of a linear mixed-model analysis.


In participants in the experimental group, the hemodynamic response in the amygdala increased relative to their own baseline and to the control group. Twelve participants in the amygdala rtfMRI-nf group, compared with only two in the control group, had a >50% decrease in MADRS score. Six participants in the experimental group, compared with one in the control group, met conventional criteria for remission at study end, resulting in a number needed to treat of 4. In participants receiving amygdala rtfMRI-nf, the percent of positive specific memories recalled increased relative to baseline and to the control group.


rtfMRI-nf training to increase the amygdala hemodynamic response to positive memories significantly decreased depressive symptoms and increased the percent of specific memories recalled on an autobiographical memory test. These data support a role of the amygdala in recovery from depression.



Brain Imaging Techniques; Emotion; Memory; Mood Disorders-Unipolar; Other Psychosocial Techniques/Treatments; fMRI neurofeedback

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