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The amygdalae are important, if not critical, brain regions for many affective, attentional and memorial processes, and dysfunction of the amygdalae has been a consistent finding in the study of clinical depression. Theoretical models of the functional neuroanatomy of both normal and psychopathological affective processes which posit cortical hemispheric specialization of functions have been supported by both lesion and functional neuroimaging studies in humans. Results from human neuroimaging studies in support of amygdalar hemispheric specialization are inconsistent. However, recent results from human lesion studies are consistent with hemispheric specialization. An important, yet largely ignored, feature of the amygdalae in the primate brain--derived from both neuroanatomical and electrophysiological data--is that there are virtually no direct interhemispheric connections via the anterior commissure (AC). This feature stands in stark contrast to that of the rodent brain wherein virtually all amygdalar nuclei have direct interhemispheric connections. We propose this feature of the primate brain, in particular the human brain, is a result of influences from frontocortical hemispheric specialization which have developed over the course of primate brain evolution. Results consistent with this notion were obtained by examining the nature of human amygdalar interhemispheric connectivity using both functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). We found modest evidence of amygdalar interhemispheric functional connectivity in the non-depressed brain, whereas there was strong evidence of functional connectivity in the depressed brain. We interpret and discuss the nature of this connectivity in the depressed brain in the context of dysfunctional frontocortical-amygdalar interactions which accompany clinical depression.
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OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to probe the neural circuitry associated with reactivity to negative and positive affective stimuli in patients with major depressive disorder before treatment and after 2 and 8 weeks of treatment with venlafaxine. Relations between baseline neural activation and response to treatment were also evaluated. METHOD: Patients with major depressive disorder (N=12) and healthy comparison subjects (N=5) were scanned on three occasions, during which trials of alternating blocks of affective and neutral pictorial visual stimuli were presented. Symptoms were evaluated at each testing occasion, and both groups completed self-report measures of mood. Statistical parametric mapping was used to examine the fMRI data with a focus on the group-by-time interactions. RESULTS: Patients showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms with treatment. Group-by-time interactions in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli were found in the left insular cortex and the left anterior cingulate. At baseline, both groups showed bilateral activation in the visual cortices, lateral prefrontal cortex, and amygdala in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli, with patients showing greater activation in the visual cortex and less activation in the left lateral prefrontal cortex. Patients with greater relative anterior cingulate activation at baseline in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli showed the most robust treatment response. CONCLUSIONS: The findings underscore the importance of the neural circuitry activated by negative affect in depression and indicate that components of this circuitry can be changed within 2 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication.
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