Neural models of major depressive disorder (MDD) posit that over-response of components of the brain's salience network (SN) to negative stimuli plays a crucial role in the pathophysiology of MDD. In the present proof-of-concept study, we tested this formulation directly by examining the affective consequences of training depressed persons to down-regulate response of SN nodes to negative material. Ten participants in the real neurofeedback group saw, and attempted to learn to down-regulate, activity from an empirically identified node of the SN. Ten other participants engaged in an equivalent procedure with the exception that they saw SN-node neurofeedback indices from participants in the real neurofeedback group. Before and after scanning, all participants completed tasks assessing emotional responses to negative scenes and to negative and positive self-descriptive adjectives. Compared to participants in the sham-neurofeedback group, from pre- to post-training, participants in the real-neurofeedback group showed a greater decrease in SN-node response to negative stimuli, a greater decrease in self-reported emotional response to negative scenes, and a greater decrease in self-reported emotional response to negative self-descriptive adjectives. Our findings provide support for a neural formulation in which the SN plays a primary role in contributing to negative cognitive biases in MDD.
Keywords: Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Information processing biases; Major depressive disorder; Neurofeedback; Salience network.
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