fMRI Activation in the Amygdala and the Orbitofrontal Cortex in Unmedicated Subjects with Major Depressive Disorder

Published In: Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, v. 183, no. 3, Sep. 2010, p. 209-217

Posted on RAND.org on September 01, 2010

by Jennifer D. Townsend, Nicole K. Eberhart, Susan Y. Bookheimer, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Lara C. Foland-Ross, Ian P. Cook, Catherine Sugar, Lori L. Altshuler

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Although amygdala and frontal lobe functional abnormalities have been reported in patients with mood disorders, the literature regarding major depressive disorder (MDD) is inconsistent. Likely confounds include heterogeneity of patient samples, medication status, and analytic approach. This study evaluated the amygdala and frontal lobe activation in unmedicated MDD patients. Fifteen MDD patients and 15 matched healthy controls were scanned using fMRI during the performance of an emotional face task known to robustly activate the amygdala and prefrontal cortex (PFC). Whole-brain and region of interest analyses were performed, and correlations between clinical features and activation were examined. Significant amygdala and lateral PFC activation were seen within patient and control groups. In a between-group comparison, patients showed significantly reduced activation in the insula, temporal and occipital cortices. In MDD, the presence of anxiety symptoms was associated with decreased orbitofrontal activation. We found robust activation in both the MDD and control groups in fronto-limbic regions with no significant between-group differences using either analytic approach. The current study replicates previous research on unmedicated subjects showing no significant differences in amygdala function in depressed vs. control subjects with respect to simple tasks involving emotion observation.

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