Reduced Theta Power During Memory Retrieval in Depressed Adults

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2019 Jul;4(7):636-643. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2019.03.004. Epub 2019 Mar 18.


Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with poor recollection, but the neural mechanisms responsible for this deficit are unclear. Recollection is supported by interactions between the hippocampus and cortex that appear to be mediated by oscillatory activity in the theta band (4-7 Hz) and that are elicited during source memory retrieval. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that evoked theta power during source memory retrieval would be reduced in MDD, as this would provide a physiological basis for deficient recollection in adults with depression.

Methods: Morlet wavelets were applied to event-related potentials collected from 24 unmedicated adults with MDD and 24 healthy control adults during the retrieval of source and semantic memories. Whole-scalp analyses focused on group differences in evoked theta power.

Results: There were no group differences in behavior. Nevertheless, from 400 to 799 ms, theta power was broadly reduced in adults with depression versus healthy adults. This reduction was observed during source and semantic retrieval. Parietal midline electrodes showed significantly reduced theta power during source-but not semantic-retrieval in adults with depression versus healthy adults in this interval. Furthermore, theta power over parietal midline sites from 400 to 799 ms was more strongly related to source memory accuracy in healthy adults versus adults with depression.

Conclusions: Relative to healthy control adults, adults with depression showed reduced theta power during memory retrieval and a weaker relationship between parietal midline theta power and source memory accuracy. These findings indicate that abnormal theta signals may contribute to memory deficits in adults with MDD.

Keywords: Depression; EEG; Memory; Retrieval; Theta; Time frequency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Semantics
  • Theta Rhythm*