Difficulties in regulating emotions are linked to the core symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). We therefore investigated the neural substrates of emotion-regulation problems in women with PMDD.
On the basis of self-evaluations over 2 months on the Daily Record of Severity of Problems, eligible participants were assigned to two groups: PMDD and control (18 per group). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a well-validated task were used to assess brain function during emotion regulation. Participants were tested twice, once during the follicular (asymptomatic) and once in the late luteal (symptomatic) phase of the menstrual cycle.
Women with PMDD gave higher ratings of negative affect in the luteal phase than in the follicular phase, and compared with healthy control participants during the luteal phase. A region-of-interest fMRI analysis indicated that during the late luteal phase, women with PMDD had hypoactivation in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) during all conditions of the emotion-regulation task, not only in the contrast that isolated emotion regulation. An exploratory whole-brain, voxel-wise analysis showed that women with PMDD had less activation in the precentral gyrus during the luteal phase than the follicular phase, and less activation in the postcentral gyrus compared with control participants.
During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, women with PMDD experience difficulty regulating emotions. Hypoactivation in the right dlPFC may contribute to this problem, but may be related more generally to other affective symptoms of PMDD. Hypofunction in the right pre- and postcentral gyri warrants additional study.