Background: Negative cognitive bias and aberrant neural processing of self-referent emotional words seem to be trait-marks of depression. However, it is unclear whether these neurocognitive changes are present in unaffected first-degree relatives and constitute an illness endophenotype.
Methods: Fifty-three healthy, never-depressed monozygotic or dizygotic twins with a co-twin history of depression (high-risk group: n = 26) or no first-degree family history of depression (low-risk group: n = 27) underwent neurocognitive testing and functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) as part of a follow-up cohort study. Participants performed a self-referent emotional word categorisation task and free word recall task followed by a recognition task during fMRI. Participants also completed questionnaires assessing mood, personality traits and coping strategies.
Results: High-risk and low-risk twins (age, mean ± SD: 40 ± 11) were well-balanced for demographic variables, mood, coping and neuroticism. High-risk twins showed lower accuracy during self-referent categorisation of emotional words independent of valence and more false recollections of negative words than low-risk twins during free recall. Functional MRI yielded no differences between high-risk and low-risk twins in retrieval-specific neural activity for positive or negative words or during the recognition of negative versus positive words within the hippocampus or prefrontal cortex.
Conclusions: The subtle display of negative recall bias is consistent with the hypothesis that self-referent negative memory bias is an endophenotype for depression. High-risk twins' lower categorisation accuracy adds to the evidence for valence-independent cognitive deficits in individuals at familial risk for depression.
Keywords: Cognition; Depression; Endophenotype; FMRI; Familial risk.
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