Background: Among mental disorders, major depressive disorder (MDD) is highly prevalent and associated with emotional dysfunctions linked to activity alterations in the brain, mainly in prefrontal regions, the insula, the anterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala. However, this evidence is heterogeneous, perhaps because magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies on MDD tend to neglect comorbid anxiety (COM-A).
Methods: To address this, here a sample of age- and sex-matched patients, nMDD = 90 and nCOM-A = 85, underwent functional MRI to assess neurofunctional group differences during a negative emotional face-matching task using a hypothesis-driven region of interest approach (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala) and an explorative whole-brain approach. We also assessed these relationships with state-trait anxiety measures, a state depression measure, general functioning and medication load.
Results: During face processing, COM-A (compared to MDD) had significantly increased bilateral insula activity. No activity differences were found in the anterior cingulate cortex or the amygdala. Whole-brain analyses revealed increased inferior temporal activation and frontal activation (comprising the inferior and middle frontal gyrus) in COM-A that was positively linked to state anxiety as well as general functioning across groups.
Limitations: Still, the lack of a healthy control and small effects mean this study should be replicated to further interpret the results.
Conclusions: The findings highlight a discriminative activation pattern between MDD and COM-A regarding emotion processing and may present a correlate of potentially anxiety-related psychopathology. In future, further investigations in potential discriminative activity patterns could help to elucidate the origin, development and treatment of depression.
Keywords: Anxiety disorders; Comorbidity; Depression; Emotion processing; fMRI.
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