Association between brain serotonin 4 receptor binding and reactivity to emotional faces in depressed and healthy individuals

Transl Psychiatry. 2023 May 11;13(1):165. doi: 10.1038/s41398-023-02440-3.


Brain serotonergic (5-HT) signaling is posited to modulate neural responses to emotional stimuli. Dysfunction in 5-HT signaling is implicated in major depressive disorder (MDD), a disorder associated with significant disturbances in emotion processing. In MDD, recent evidence points to altered 5-HT4 receptor (5-HT4R) levels, a promising target for antidepressant treatment. However, how these alterations influence neural processing of emotions in MDD remains poorly understood. This is the first study to examine the association between 5-HT4R binding and neural responses to emotions in patients with MDD and healthy controls. The study included one hundred and thirty-eight participants, comprising 88 outpatients with MDD from the NeuroPharm clinical trial ( identifier: NCT02869035) and 50 healthy controls. Participants underwent an [11C]SB207145 positron emission tomography (PET) scan to quantify 5-HT4R binding (BPND) and a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan during which they performed an emotional face matching task. We examined the association between regional 5-HT4R binding and corticolimbic responses to emotional faces using a linear latent variable model, including whether this association was moderated by depression status. We observed a positive correlation between 5-HT4R BPND and the corticolimbic response to emotional faces across participants (r = 0.20, p = 0.03). This association did not differ between groups (parameter estimate difference = 0.002, 95% CI = -0.008: 0.013, p = 0.72). Thus, in the largest PET/fMRI study of associations between serotonergic signaling and brain function, we found a positive association between 5-HT4R binding and neural responses to emotions that appear unaltered in MDD. Future clinical trials with novel pharmacological agents targeting 5-HT4R are needed to confirm whether they ameliorate emotion processing biases in MDD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism
  • Depressive Disorder, Major*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT4 / metabolism
  • Serotonin


  • Receptors, Serotonin, 5-HT4
  • Serotonin

Associated data