Aberrant working memory processing in major depression: evidence from multivoxel pattern classification

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Aug;43(9):1972-1979. doi: 10.1038/s41386-018-0081-1. Epub 2018 May 2.


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is often accompanied by severe impairments in working memory (WM). Neuroimaging studies investigating the mechanisms underlying these impairments have produced conflicting results. It remains unclear whether MDD patients show hyper- or hypoactivity in WM-related brain regions and how potential aberrations in WM processing may contribute to the characteristic dysregulation of cognition-emotion interactions implicated in the maintenance of the disorder. In order to shed light on these questions and to overcome limitations of previous studies, we applied a multivoxel pattern classification approach to investigate brain activity in large samples of MDD patients (N = 57) and matched healthy controls (N = 61) during a WM task that incorporated positive, negative, and neutral stimuli. Results showed that patients can be distinguished from healthy controls with good classification accuracy based on functional activation patterns. ROI analyses based on the classification weight maps showed that during WM, patients had higher activity in the left DLPFC and the dorsal ACC. Furthermore, regions of the default-mode network (DMN) were less deactivated in patients. As no performance differences were observed, we conclude that patients required more effort, indexed by more activity in WM-related regions, to successfully perform the task. This increased effort might be related to difficulties in suppressing task-irrelevant information reflected by reduced deactivation of regions within the DMN. Effects were most pronounced for negative and neutral stimuli, thus pointing toward important implications of aberrations in WM processes in cognition-emotion interactions in MDD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Reading