Ventromedial prefrontal cortex activation and neurofeedback modulation during episodic future thinking for individuals with suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Behav Res Ther. 2024 May:176:104522. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2024.104522. Epub 2024 Mar 22.


Individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs) show less specificity and positivity during episodic future thinking (EFT). Here, we present findings from two studies aiming to (1) further our understanding of how STBs may relate to neural responsivity during EFT and (2) examine the feasibility of modulating EFT-related activation using real-time fMRI neurofeedback (rtfMRI-nf). Study 1 involved 30 individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD; half with STBs) who performed an EFT task during fMRI, for which they imagined personally-relevant future positive, negative, or neutral events. Positive EFT elicited greater ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) activation compared to negative EFT. Importantly, the MDD + STB group exhibited reduced vmPFC activation across all EFT conditions compared to MDD-STB; although EFT fluency and subjective experience remained consistent across groups. Study 2 included rtfMRI-nf focused on vmPFC modulation during positive EFT for six participants with MDD + STBs. Results support the feasibility and acceptability of the rtfMRI-nf protocol and quantitative and qualitative observations are provided to help inform future, larger studies aiming to examine similar neurofeedback protocols. Results implicate vmPFC blunting as a promising treatment target for MDD + STBs and suggest rtfMRI-nf as one potential technique to explore for enhancing vmPFC engagement.

Keywords: Episodic future thinking; Major depressive disorder; Positive affect; Prefrontal cortex; Suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurofeedback* / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Suicidal Ideation