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It has been demonstrated that negatively distorted self-referential processing, in which individuals evaluate one's own self, is a pathogenic mechanism in subthreshold depression that has a considerable impact on the quality of life and carries an elevated risk of developing major depression. Behavioural activation (BA) is an effective intervention for depression, including subthreshold depression. However, brain mechanisms underlying BA are not fully understood. We sought to examine the effect of BA on neural activation during other perspective self-referential processing in subthreshold depression.
A total of 56 subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging scans during a self-referential task with two viewpoints (self/other) and two emotional valences (positive/negative) on two occasions. Between scans, while the intervention group (n = 27) received BA therapy, the control group (n = 29) did not.
The intervention group showed improvement in depressive symptoms, increased activation in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), and increased reaction times during other perspective self-referential processing for positive words after the intervention. Also, there was a positive correlation between increased activation in the dmPFC and improvement of depressive symptoms. Additionally, there was a positive correlation between improvement of depressive symptoms and increased reaction times.
BA increased dmPFC activation during other perspective self-referential processing with improvement of depressive symptoms and increased reaction times which were associated with improvement of self-monitoring function. Our results suggest that BA improved depressive symptoms and objective monitoring function for subthreshold depression.
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