Background: Anhedonia and lack of motivation are core symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). Neuroimaging studies in MDD patients have shown reductions in reward-related activity in terminal regions of the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system, such as the ventral striatum. Monoamines have been implicated in both mesolimbic incentive processing and the mechanism of action of antidepressant drugs. However, not much is known about antidepressant effects on mesolimbic incentive processing in humans, which might be related to the effects on anhedonia.
Methods: To investigate the short-term effects of antidepressants on reward-related activity in the ventral striatum, we investigated the effect of the combined serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor duloxetine. Healthy volunteers underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. After taking duloxetine (60 mg once a day) or placebo for 14 days, participants completed a monetary incentive delay task that activates the ventral striatum during reward anticipation.
Results: Our results (n = 19) show enhanced ventral striatal responses after duloxetine administration compared with placebo. Moreover, this increase in ventral striatal activity was positively correlated with duloxetine plasma levels.
Conclusions: This is the first study to demonstrate that antidepressants augment neural activity in mesolimbic DA incentive processing circuits in healthy volunteers. These effects are likely caused by the increase in monoamine neurotransmission in the ventral striatum. Our findings suggest that antidepressants may alleviate anhedonia by stimulating incentive processing.
Copyright © 2011 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.