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Neurophysiological correlates of autobiographical memory deficits in currently and formerly depressed subjects

  • K. D. Young (a1), P. S. F. Bellgowan (a1) (a2), J. Bodurka (a1) (a3) and W. C. Drevets (a1) (a4)



Individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) tested in either the depressed (dMDD) or remitted phase (rMDD) recall fewer specific and more categorical autobiographical memories (AMs) compared to healthy controls (HCs). The current study aimed to replicate findings of AM overgenerality in dMDD or rMDD, and to elucidate differences in neurophysiological correlates of AM recall between these MDD samples and HCs.


Unmedicated participants who met criteria for the dMDD, rMDD or HC groups (n = 16/group) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while recalling AMs in response to emotionally valenced cue words. Control tasks involved generating examples from an assigned semantic category and counting the number of risers in a letter string.


The results showed fewer specific and more categorical AMs in both MDD samples versus HCs; dMDDs and rMDDs performed similarly on these measures. The neuroimaging results showed differences between groups in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior insula, inferior temporal gyrus and parahippocampus/hippocampus during specific AM recall versus example generation. During specific AM recall cued by positively valenced words, group differences were evident in the DMPFC, middle temporal gyrus, parahippocampus/hippocampus and occipital gyrus, whereas differences during specific AM recall cued by negatively valenced words were evident in the DMPFC, superior temporal gyrus and hippocampus.


AM deficits exist in rMDDs, suggesting that these impairments constitute trait-like abnormalities in MDD. We also found distinct patterns of hemodynamic activity for each group as they recalled specific AMs, raising the possibility that each group used a partly unique strategy for self-referential focus during successful retrieval of specific memories.


Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: K. D. Young, Ph.D., Laureate Institute for Brain Research, 6655 South Yale Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74136, USA. (Email:


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