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Several lines of research suggest a disturbance of reversal learning (reward and punishment processing, and affective switching) in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is also characterized by abnormal reversal learning, and is often co-morbid with MDD. However, neurobiological distinctions between the disorders are unclear. Functional neuroimaging (activation) studies comparing MDD and OCD directly are lacking.
Twenty non-medicated OCD-free patients with MDD, 20 non-medicated MDD-free patients with OCD, and 27 healthy controls performed a self-paced reversal learning task in an event-related design during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Compared with healthy controls, both MDD and OCD patients displayed prolonged mean reaction times (RTs) but normal accuracy. In MDD subjects, mean RTs were correlated with disease severity. Imaging results showed MDD-specific hyperactivity in the anterior insula during punishment processing and in the putamen during reward processing. Moreover, blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) responses in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the anterior PFC during affective switching showed a linear decrease across controls, MDD and OCD. Finally, the OCD group showed blunted responsiveness of the orbitofrontal (OFC)–striatal loop during reward, and in the OFC and anterior insula during affective switching.
This study shows frontal–striatal and (para)limbic functional abnormalities during reversal learning in MDD, in the context of generic psychomotor slowing. These data converge with currently influential models on the neuropathophysiology of MDD. Moreover, this study reports differential neural patterns in frontal–striatal and paralimbic structures on this task between MDD and OCD, confirming previous findings regarding the neural correlates of deficient reversal learning in OCD.
Functional brain-imaging studies in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have suggested functional alterations in temporal and prefrontal cortical regions. Effects of psychotherapy on these brain regions have not yet been examined.
Twenty civilian PTSD out-patients and 15 traumatized control subjects were assessed at baseline using psychometric ratings. Cerebral blood flow was measured using trauma script-driven imagery during 99mtechnetium hexamethyl-propylene-amine-oxime single-photon emission computed tomography scanning. All 20 out-patients were randomly assigned to treatment or wait-list conditions. Treatment was brief eclectic psychotherapy (BEP) in 16 weekly individual sessions.
At baseline, greater activation was found in the right insula and right superior/middle frontal gyrus in the PTSD group than in the control group. PTSD patients treated with BEP significantly improved on all PTSD symptom clusters compared to those on the waiting list. After effective psychotherapy, lower activation was measured in the right middle frontal gyrus, compared to the PTSD patients on the waiting list. Treatment effects on PTSD symptoms correlated positively with activation in the left superior temporal gyrus, and superior/middle frontal gyrus.
BEP induced clinical recovery in PTSD patients, and appeared to modulate the functioning of specific PTSD-related sites in the prefrontal cortical regions.
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