In depression, patients suffer from emotional and cognitive deficits, among others in semantic processing. If these semantic deficits are cognitive or interact with emotional dysfunctions, is still an open question. The aim of the current study was to investigate the influence of emotional valence on the neural correlates of semantic priming in major depression. In a lexical decision task, positive, negative, and neutral word pairs were presented during fMRI measurement. Nineteen inpatients and 19 demographically matched controls were recruited. Behaviorally, positive and neutral valence induced a priming effect whereas negative valence induced no effect (controls) or even inhibition (slower RT for related stimuli) in patients. At the neural level, the semantic relation effect revealed similar neural activation in right middle frontal regions for patients and controls. Group differences emerged in the right fusiform gyrus and the ACC. Activity associated with positive valence differed at the DLPFC and amygdala and for negative valence at putamen and cerebellum. The activation of amygdala and DLPFC correlated negatively with the severity of depression. To conclude, semantic processing deficits in depression are modulated by emotional valence of the stimulus on the behavioral as well as on neural level in right-lateralized prefrontal areas and the amygdala. The results highlighted an influence of depression severity on emotion information processing as the severity of symptoms correlated negatively with neural responses to positively and negatively valenced information. Hence, the dysfunctional emotion processing may further enhance the cognitive deficits in depression. Hum Brain Mapp 35:471–482, 2014. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.