Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) often show a tendency to strongly introspect and reflect upon their self, which has been described as increased self-focus. Although subcortical-cortical midline structures have been associated with reflection and introspection of oneself in healthy subjects, the neural correlates of the abnormally increased attribution of negative emotions to oneself, i.e. negative self-attribution, as hallmark of the increased self-focus in MDD remain unclear. The aim of the study was, therefore, to investigate the neural correlates during judgment of self-relatedness of positive and negative emotional stimuli thereby testing for emotional self-attribution. Using fMRI, we investigated 27 acute MDD patients and compared them with 25 healthy subjects employing a paradigm that focused on judgment of self-relatedness when compared with mere perception of the very same emotional stimuli. Behaviourally, patients with MDD showed significantly higher degrees of self-relatedness of specifically negative emotional stimuli when compared with healthy subjects. Neurally, patients with MDD showed significantly lower signal intensities in various subcortical and cortical midline regions like the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), supragenual anterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, ventral striatum (VS), and the dorsomedial thalamus (DMT). Signal changes in the DMPFC correlated with depression severity and hopelessness whereas those in the VS and the DMT were related to judgment of self-relatedness of negative emotional stimuli. In conclusion, we present first evidence that the abnormally increased negative self-attribution as hallmark of the increased self-focus in MDD might be mediated by altered neural activity in subcortical-cortical midline structures.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.