Reconsidering anhedonia in depression: lessons from translational neuroscience

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011 Jan;35(3):537-55. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.06.006. Epub 2010 Jul 11.


Anhedonia is a core symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD), the neurobiological mechanisms of which remain poorly understood. Despite decades of speculation regarding the role of dopamine (DA) in anhedonic symptoms, empirical evidence has remained elusive, with frequent reports of contradictory findings. In the present review, we argue that this has resulted from an underspecified definition of anhedonia, which has failed to dissociate between consummatory and motivational aspects of reward behavior. Given substantial preclinical evidence that DA is involved primarily in motivational aspects of reward, we suggest that a refined definition of anhedonia that distinguishes between deficits in pleasure and motivation is essential for the purposes of identifying its neurobiological substrates. Moreover, bridging the gap between preclinical and clinical models of anhedonia may require moving away from the conceptualization of anhedonia as a steady-state, mood-like phenomena. Consequently, we introduce the term "decisional anhedonia" to address the influence of anhedonia on reward decision-making. These proposed modifications to the theoretical definition of anhedonia have implications for research, assessment and treatment of MDD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Neurosciences*
  • Reward
  • Translational Research, Biomedical*


  • Dopamine