Heinzel A, Northoff G, Boeker H, Boesiger P, Grimm S. Emotional processing and executive functions in major depressive disorder: dorsal prefrontal activity correlates with performance in the intra–extra dimensional set shift.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterised by predominately negatively valenced emotional symptoms that are often accompanied by cognitive impairments. We posited that cognitive impairments in MDD are related to altered emotional processing in prefrontal cortex.
We compared 20 medication-free patients with MDD and 29 matched healthy controls. Both groups performed an emotional task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Furthermore, they completed the intra–extra dimensional set shift (IED) test probing for cognitive impairments. Then we correlated the results of the IED with the changes in fMRI BOLD signal in MDD patients and healthy subjects.
The subcategory of the IED applying extradimensional shift (EDS) showed a divergent performance of the MDD group committing significantly more errors than the control group. Correlating the EDS errors with fMRI signal changes, the healthy subjects showed a positive correlation with the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the right orbitofrontal cortex. MDD subjects, in contrast, showed a positive correlation in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and a negative correlation in the left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC).
We hypothesise that the differential correlation in healthy controls and MDD patients may reflect the use of different strategies in their performance. The impaired executive functions, as reflected by altered processing in right DLPFC and left DMPFC, may implicitly influence emotional processing in patients suffering from MDD.