Executive and prefrontal dysfunction in unipolar depression: a review of neuropsychological and imaging evidence

Neurosci Res. 2004 Sep;50(1):1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neures.2004.05.003.


This paper reviews recent empirical findings related to prefrontal and executive function in unipolar depression. While a number of reviews have dealt with either the neuropsychological literature or findings from imaging studies, the present review addresses both, as well as findings from studies that have combined brain-imaging techniques with neuropsychological measures. This combined approach is of great interest as the performance of a structured task may act to load the areas of interest and reduce variance, thus making the imaging evidence more valuable; while the use of imaging provides a check that the neuropsychological tasks are indeed engaging the structures whose performance they are intended to assess. Prominent models of the neurobiology of depression implicate involvement of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The evidence from combined imaging and neuropsychological studies supports the involvement of the ACC, but is less clear in the case of the DLPFC. However, the limited number of such studies conducted to date means that conclusions must be tentative and further studies employing this combined approach may be of great value.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*