J Psychiatry Neurosci 2012;37(4):250-8
Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt, PhD; Rudi De Raedt, PhD; Daniel G. Dillon, PhD; Sunny J. Dutra, BA; Nancy Brooks, MEd; Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD
Vanderhasselt, De Raedt — Department of Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; Dillon, Brooks, Pizzagalli — Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass.; Pizzagalli — Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, Mass.; Dutra — Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with difficulty disengaging attention from emotionally negative information. Few studies have investigated whether euthymic individuals with a history of depression (remitted MDD [rMDD]) show similar deficits, and little is known about concomitant neurophysiological features of such deficits. To fill these gaps, we investigated cognitive control over emotional stimuli in participants with rMDD and controls without history of depression or psychopathology.
Methods: We collected 128- channel event-related potentials (ERPs) while participants performed a cued emotional conflict task. During the task, a cue instructed the participant to respond to the actual or opposite valence of an upcoming happy or sad face.
Results: We enrolled 15 individuals with rMDD and 18 controls in our study. Event-related potentials showed no group differences in response to the cues, highlighting preserved preparatory processes when anticipating an emotional conflict. However, relative to the control group, the rMDD group responded more slowly and showed reduced N450 amplitudes on trials that required disengaging from negative faces (pressing “happy” in response to a sad face).
Limitations: The sample size was small, and the null finding in the cue-locked N2 analyses may be owing to low power.
Conclusion: Our results suggest a selective deficit in cognitive control over sad stimuli in individuals with rMDD. Additional studies will be required to pinpoint whether the current findings stem from impairments in response conflict, conflict monitoring and/or attentional disengagement in response to sad stimuli. Moreover, future studies are warranted to evaluate whether decreased cognitive control in response to negative information might increase the risk for future depressive episodes.
Submitted July 26, 2011; Revised Oct. 26, Nov. 28, 2011; Accepted Dec. 5, 2011.
Acknowledgements: M.-A. Vanderhasselt is a postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO08/PDO/168). This study was partially supported by National Institute of Mental Health grants R01MH68376 and R21MH07897 awarded to D.A. Pizzagalli. We gratefully acknowledge Dr. Avram Holmes and Dr. Pia Pechtel for scientific discussions and technical assistance.
Competing interests: None declared for R. De Raedt, D.G. Dillon, S.J. Dutra and N. Brooks. M.-A. Vanderhasselt declares having received travel support from the Research Foundation Flanders. Over the past 3 years, D.A. Pizzagalli has received research support from Advanced Neuro Technology (ANT) North America, Inc., consulting fees from ANT North America, AstraZeneca, Ono Pharmaceuticals and Shire, and honoraria from AstraZeneca for studies unrelated to this project.
Contributors: M.-A. Vanderhasselt, R. De Raedt, D.G. Dillon and D.A. Pizzagalli designed the study. M.-A. Vanderhasselt, S.J. Dutra and N. Brooks acquired the data. M.-A. Vanderhasselt, D.G. Dillon and D.A. Pizzagalli analyzed the data. M.-A. Vanderhasselt, D.G. Dillon and D.A. Pizzagalli wrote the article. All authors reviewed the article and approved its publication.
Correspondence to: D.A. Pizzagalli, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill St., Belmont MA 02478; email@example.com