Divergent relationship of depression severity to social reward responses among patients with bipolar versus unipolar depression

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2016 Aug 30;254:18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2016.06.003. Epub 2016 Jun 7.


Neuroimaging studies of mood disorders demonstrate abnormalities in brain regions implicated in reward processing. However, there is a paucity of research investigating how social rewards affect reward circuit activity in these disorders. Here, we evaluated the relationship of both diagnostic category and dimensional depression severity to reward system function in bipolar and unipolar depression. In total, 86 adults were included, including 24 patients with bipolar depression, 24 patients with unipolar depression, and 38 healthy comparison subjects. Participants completed a social reward task during 3T BOLD fMRI. On average, diagnostic groups did not differ in activation to social reward. However, greater depression severity significantly correlated with reduced bilateral ventral striatum activation to social reward in the bipolar depressed group, but not the unipolar depressed group. In addition, decreased left orbitofrontal cortical activation correlated with more severe symptoms in bipolar depression, but not unipolar depression. These differential dimensional effects resulted in a significant voxelwise group by depression severity interaction. Taken together, these results provide initial evidence that deficits in social reward processing are differentially related to depression severity in the two disorders.

Keywords: Magnetic resonance imaging; Mood disorders; Neuroimaging.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Reward*
  • Social Perception*
  • Ventral Striatum / physiopathology*