February 17, 2009

The Default Mode Network and Self-Referential Processes in Depression

In a recent study, Sheline and colleagues examined whether patients with major depression were impaired in their ability to regulate the activity of the default mode network, which is characterized by self-referential functions.  To do so, they used fMRI to measure changes in brain activity occurring within this network in 20 individuals with major depression and 21 demographically similar control participants.  The depressed and healthy control participants were asked to examine negative pictures passively and also to reappraise them actively. 

In contrast to the depressed participants, the healthy control participants demonstrated reduced activity in widely distributed regions of the default mode network (ventromedial prefrontal cortex, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, lateral parietal cortex, and lateral temporal cortex) while looking at the negative pictures and reappraising them.  Moreover, compared to the healthy control participants, the depressed participants demonstrated a larger increase in activity in other default mode network regions (amygdala, parahippocampus, and hippocampus) while they looked at negative pictures. 

Based on these data, Sheline and colleagues suggest that depression is characterized by both a stimulus-induced increase in brain activity and a failure to broadly decrease the activity of the default mode network.  Further, the authors suggest that these findings provide a brain network framework within which to consider the pathophysiology of depression.

Click here for full access to the study.

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