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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.
Cognitive dysfunction in depression and bipolar disorder (BD) is insufficiently targeted by available treatments. Erythropoietin (EPO) increases neuroplasticity and may improve cognition in mood disorders, but the neuronal mechanisms of these effects are unknown. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the effects of EPO on neural circuitry activity during working memory (WM) performance.
Patients with treatment-resistant major depression, who were moderately depressed, or with BD in partial remission, were randomized to eight weekly infusions of EPO (40 000 IU) (N = 30) or saline (N = 26) in a double-blind, parallel-group design. Patients underwent fMRI, mood ratings and blood tests at baseline and week 14. During fMRI patients performed an n-back WM task.
EPO improved WM accuracy compared with saline (p = 0.045). Whole-brain analyses revealed that EPO increased WM load-related activity in the right superior frontal gyrus (SFG) compared with saline (p = 0.01). There was also enhanced WM load-related deactivation of the left hippocampus in EPO-treated compared to saline-treated patients (p = 0.03). Across the entire sample, baseline to follow-up changes in WM performance correlated positively with changes in WM-related SFG activity and negatively with hippocampal response (r = 0.28–0.30, p < 0.05). The effects of EPO were not associated with changes in mood or red blood cells (p ⩾0.08).
The present findings associate changes in WM-load related activity in the right SFG and left hippocampus with improved executive function in EPO-treated patients. Clinical trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov: NCT00916552.
Negative cognitive bias and aberrant neural processing of emotional faces are trait-marks of depression. Yet it is unclear whether these changes constitute an endophenotype for depression and are also present in healthy individuals with hereditary risk for depression.
Thirty healthy, never-depressed monozygotic (MZ) twins with a co-twin history of depression (high risk group: n = 13) or without co-twin history of depression (low-risk group: n = 17) were enrolled in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study. 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 strategies.
High-risk twins showed increased neural response to happy and fearful faces in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), pre-supplementary motor area and occipito-parietal regions compared to low-risk twins. They also displayed stronger negative coupling between amygdala and pregenual ACC, dmPFC and temporo-parietal regions during emotional face processing. These task-related changes in neural responses in high-risk twins were accompanied by impaired gender discrimination performance during face processing. They also displayed increased attention vigilance for fearful faces and were slower at recognizing facial expressions relative to low-risk controls. These effects occurred in the absence of differences between groups in mood, subjective state or coping.
Different neural response and functional connectivity within fronto-limbic and occipito-parietal regions during emotional face processing and enhanced fear vigilance may be key endophenotypes for depression.
Healthy first-degree relatives to patients with depression have increased risk for developing depression and show brain structure and response anomalies in regions responsible for processing rewards. However, inherent behavioral and neural abnormalities related to valuebased decision making have not been explored in these individuals.
To address this, in a functional MRI study we investigated healthy mono- or dizygotic twins with or without a co-twin history of depression (high risk: n=36 and low-risk: n=31, respectively). Using SPSS10 and SPM8 statistical packages we compared behavioral and neural responses to gambling choices of twins at increased familial risk with twins without familial risk for depression.
We found no differences in risk choice behavior between high- and low-risk twins. Across groups, increased behavioral risk correlated with response in anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, ventral striatum, insula and raphe nucleus, as expected. Compared with twins at low risk, high-risk twins showed increased activation of left insula with increasingly risky choices (Fig1).
Healthy individuals at high hereditary risk for depression show elevated activity in left insula when making high-risk choices, region previously found to be causally involved in value-based decision-making by promoting risk taking. This might indicate a higher neural effort in these individuals during risk taking.
Healthy first-degree relatives of patients with major depression (rMD+) show brain structure and functional response anomalies and have elevated risk for developing depression, a disorder linked to abnormal serotonergic neurotransmission and reward processing.
In a two-step functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) investigation, we first evaluated whether positive and negative monetary outcomes were differentially processed by rMD+ individuals compared to healthy first-degree relatives of control probands (rMD−). Second, in a double-blinded placebo-controlled randomized trial we investigated whether a 4-week intervention with the selective serotonergic reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) escitalopram had a normalizing effect on behavior and brain responses of the rMD+ individuals.
Negative outcomes increased the probability of risk-averse choices in the subsequent trial in rMD+ but not in rMD− individuals. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) displayed a stronger neural response when subjects missed a large reward after a low-risk choice in the rMD+ group compared to the rMD− group. The enhanced orbitofrontal response to negative outcomes was reversed following escitalopram intervention compared to placebo. Conversely, for positive outcomes, the left hippocampus showed attenuated response to high wins in the rMD+ compared to the rMD− group. The SSRI intervention reinforced the hippocampal response to large wins. A subsequent structural analysis revealed that the abnormal neural responses were not accounted for by changes in gray matter density in rMD+ individuals.
Our study in first-degree relatives of depressive patients showed abnormal brain responses to aversive and rewarding outcomes in regions known to be dysfunctional in depression. We further confirmed the reversal of these aberrant activations with SSRI intervention.
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