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Depression is characterized by poor executive function, but – counterintuitively – in some studies, it has been associated with highly accurate performance on certain cognitively demanding tasks. The psychological mechanisms responsible for this paradoxical finding are unclear. To address this issue, we applied a drift diffusion model (DDM) to flanker task data from depressed and healthy adults participating in the multi-site Establishing Moderators and Biosignatures of Antidepressant Response for Clinical Care for Depression (EMBARC) study.
One hundred unmedicated, depressed adults and 40 healthy controls completed a flanker task. We investigated the effect of flanker interference on accuracy and response time, and used the DDM to examine group differences in three cognitive processes: prepotent response bias (tendency to respond to the distracting flankers), response inhibition (necessary to resist prepotency), and executive control (required for execution of correct response on incongruent trials).
Consistent with prior reports, depressed participants responded more slowly and accurately than controls on incongruent trials. The DDM indicated that although executive control was sluggish in depressed participants, this was more than offset by decreased prepotent response bias. Among the depressed participants, anhedonia was negatively correlated with a parameter indexing the speed of executive control (r = −0.28, p = 0.007).
Executive control was delayed in depression but this was counterbalanced by reduced prepotent response bias, demonstrating how participants with executive function deficits can nevertheless perform accurately in a cognitive control task. Drawing on data from neural network simulations, we speculate that these results may reflect tonically reduced striatal dopamine in depression.
Draft DSM-5 criteria for a mixed major depressive episode have been proposed, but their predictive validity has not yet been established. We hypothesized that such symptoms would be associated with poorer antidepressant treatment outcomes.
We examined outcomes among individuals with major depressive disorder participating in the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study, an effectiveness study conducted at primary and specialty care centers in the USA. Mixed features were derived from the six self-report items of the mania subscale of the Psychiatric Diagnosis Screening Questionnaire. Primary analyses examined the association between the presence of at least two of these in the 6 months before study entry, and remission across up to four sequential treatment trials, as well as adverse outcomes.
Of the 2397 subjects with a major depressive episode of at least 6 months' duration, 449 (18.7%) reported at least two mixed symptoms. The presence of such symptoms was associated with a greater likelihood of remission across up to four sequential treatments, which persisted after adjustment for potential confounding clinical and demographic variables (adjusted hazard ratio 1.16, 95% confidence interval 1.03–1.28). Two individual items, expansive mood and cheerfulness, were strongly associated with a greater likelihood of remission.
Proposed DSM-5 mixed state features were associated with a greater rather than a lesser likelihood of remission. While unexpected, this result suggests the potential utility of further investigation of depressive mixed states in major depression.
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