Reciprocal limbic-cortical function and negative mood: converging PET findings in depression and normal sadness

Am J Psychiatry. 1999 May;156(5):675-82. doi: 10.1176/ajp.156.5.675.


Objective: Theories of human behavior from Plato to Freud have repeatedly emphasized links between emotion and reason, a relationship now commonly attributed to pathways connecting phylogenetically "old" and "new" brain regions. Expanding on this theory, this study examined functional interactions between specific limbic and neocortical regions accompanying normal and disease-associated shifts in negative mood state.

Method: Regions of concordant functional change accompanying provocation of transient sadness in healthy volunteers and resolution of chronic dysphoric symptoms in depressed patients were examined with two positron emission tomography techniques: [15O]water and [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose, respectively.

Results: With sadness, increases in limbic-paralimbic blood flow (subgenual cingulate, anterior insula) and decreases in neocortical regions (right dorsolateral prefrontal, inferior parietal) were identified. With recovery from depression, the reverse pattern, involving the same regions, was seen--limbic metabolic decreases and neocortical increases. A significant inverse correlation between subgenual cingulate and right dorsolateral prefrontal activity was also demonstrated in both conditions.

Conclusions: Reciprocal changes involving subgenual cingulate and right prefrontal cortex occur with both transient and chronic changes in negative mood. The presence and maintenance of functional reciprocity between these regions with shifts in mood in either direction suggests that these regional interactions are obligatory and probably mediate the well-recognized relationships between mood and attention seen in both normal and pathological conditions. The bidirectional nature of this limbic-cortical reciprocity provides additional evidence of potential mechanisms mediating cognitive ("top-down"), pharmacological (mixed), and surgical ("bottom-up") treatments of mood disorders such as depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / diagnostic imaging
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / blood supply*
  • Limbic System / diagnostic imaging
  • Limbic System / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Neocortex / blood supply*
  • Neocortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Neocortex / metabolism
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Oxygen Radioisotopes
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


  • Oxygen Radioisotopes
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Glucose