Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a promising approach in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). TRD is associated with problems in interpersonal relationships, which might be linked to impaired empathy. Here, we investigate the influence of DBS in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) on empathy in patients with TRD and explore the pattern of oscillatory sgACC activity during performance of the multifaceted empathy test. We recorded local field potential activity directly from sgACC via DBS electrodes in patients. Based on previous behavioral findings, we expected disrupted empathy networks. Patients showed increased empathic involvement ratings toward negative stimuli as compared with healthy subjects that were significantly reduced after 6 months of DBS. Stimulus-related oscillatory activity pattern revealed a broad desynchronization in the beta (14-35 Hz) band that was significantly larger during patients' reported emotional empathy for negative stimuli than when patients reported to have no empathy. Beta desynchronization for empathic involvement correlated with self-reported severity of depression. Our results indicate a "negativity bias" in patients that can be reduced by DBS. Moreover, direct recordings show activation of the sgACC area during emotional processing and propose that changes in beta-band oscillatory activity in the sgACC might index empathic involvement of negative emotion in TRD.
Keywords: deep brain stimulation; empathy; local field potential recordings; sgACC; treatment-resistant depression.
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