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OBJECTIVE: The anterior cingulate cortex has been implicated in depression. Results are best interpreted by considering anatomic and cytoarchitectonic subdivisions. Evidence suggests depression is characterized by hypoactivity in the dorsal anterior cingulate, whereas hyperactivity in the rostral anterior cingulate is associated with good response to treatment. The authors tested the hypothesis that activity in the rostral anterior cingulate during the depressed state has prognostic value for the degree of eventual response to treatment. Whereas prior studies used hemodynamic imaging, this investigation used EEG. METHOD: The authors recorded 28-channel EEG data for 18 unmedicated patients with major depression and 18 matched comparison subjects. Clinical outcome was assessed after nortriptyline treatment. Of the 18 depressed patients, 16 were considered responders 4-6 months after initial assessment. A median split was used to classify response, and the pretreatment EEG data of patients showing better (N=9) and worse (N=9) responses were analyzed with low-resolution electromagnetic tomography, a new method to compute three-dimensional cortical current density for given EEG frequency bands according to a Talairach brain atlas. RESULTS: The patients with better responses showed hyperactivity (higher theta activity) in the rostral anterior cingulate (Brodmann's area 24/32). Follow-up analyses demonstrated the specificity of this finding, which was not confounded by age or pretreatment depression severity. CONCLUSIONS: These results, based on electrophysiological imaging, not only support hemodynamic findings implicating activation of the anterior cingulate as a predictor of response in depression, but they also suggest that differential activity in the rostral anterior cingulate is associated with gradations of response.
Major depression is a heterogeneous condition, and the search for neural correlates specific to clinically defined subtypes has been inconclusive. Theoretical considerations implicate frontostriatal, particularly subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC), dysfunction in the pathophysiology of melancholia--a subtype of depression characterized by anhedonia--but no empirical evidence has been found yet for such a link. To test the hypothesis that melancholic, but not nonmelancholic depression, is associated with the subgenual PFC impairment, concurrent measurement of brain electrical (electroencephalogram, EEG) and metabolic (positron emission tomography, PET) activity were obtained in 38 unmedicated subjects with DSM-IV major depressive disorder (20 melancholic, 18 nonmelancholic subjects), and 18 comparison subjects. EEG data were analyzed with a tomographic source localization method that computed the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density for standard frequency bands, allowing voxelwise correlations between the EEG and PET data. Voxel-based morphometry analyses of structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data were performed to assess potential structural abnormalities in melancholia. Melancholia was associated with reduced activity in the subgenual PFC (Brodmann area 25), manifested by increased inhibitory delta activity (1.5-6.0 Hz) and decreased glucose metabolism, which themselves were inversely correlated. Following antidepressant treatment, depressed subjects with the largest reductions in depression severity showed the lowest post-treatment subgenual PFC delta activity. Analyses of structural MRI revealed no group differences in the subgenual PFC, but in melancholic subjects, a negative correlation between gray matter density and age emerged. Based on preclinical evidence, we suggest that subgenual PFC dysfunction in melancholia may be associated with blunted hedonic response and exaggerated stress responsiveness.