Subcortical and ventral prefrontal cortical neural responses to facial expressions distinguish patients with bipolar disorder and major depression

Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Mar 15;55(6):578-87. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2003.11.017.


Background: Bipolar disorder (BD) is characterised by abnormalities in mood and emotional processing, but the neural correlates of these, their relationship to depressive symptoms, and the similarities with deficits in major depressive disorder (MDD) remain unclear. We compared responses within subcortical and prefrontal cortical regions to emotionally salient material in patients with BP and MDD using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Methods: We measured neural responses to mild and intense expressions of fear, happiness, and sadness in euthymic and depressed BD patients, healthy control subjects, and depressed MDD patients.

Results: Bipolar disorder patients demonstrated increased subcortical (ventral striatal, thalamic, hippocampal) and ventral prefrontal cortical responses particularly to mild and intense fear, mild happy, and mild sad expressions. Healthy control subjects demonstrated increased subcortical responses to intense happy and mild fear, and increased dorsal prefrontal cortical responses to intense sad expressions. Overall, MDD patients showed diminished neural responses to all emotional expressions except mild sadness. Depression severity correlated positively with hippocampal response to mild sadness in both patient groups.

Conclusions: Compared with healthy controls and MDD patients, BD patients demonstrated increased subcortical and ventral prefrontal cortical responses to both positive and negative emotional expressions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Educational Status
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*