Reduced activation in lateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate during attention and cognitive control functions in medication-naïve adolescents with depression compared to controls


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Rozmin Halari, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (PO85), Institute of Psychiatry, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK; Tel: +44 2078480463; Fax: +44 208 2411787; Email:


Background:  There is increasing recognition of major depressive disorder (MDD) in adolescence. In adult MDD, abnormalities of fronto-striatal and fronto-cingulate circuitries mediating cognitive control functions have been implicated in the pathogenesis and been related to problems with controlling negative thoughts. No neuroimaging studies of cognitive control functions, however, exist in paediatric depression. This study investigated whether medication-naïve adolescents with MDD show abnormal brain activation of fronto-striatal and fronto-cingulate networks when performing tasks of attentional and cognitive control.

Methods:  Event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to compare brain activation between 21 medication-naïve adolescents with a first-episode of MDD aged 14–17 years and 21 healthy adolescents, matched for handedness, age, sex, demographics and IQ. Activation paradigms were tasks of selective attention (Simon task), attentional switching (Switch task), and motor response inhibition and error detection (Stop task).

Results:  In all three tasks, adolescents with depression compared to healthy controls demonstrated reduced activation in task-relevant right dorsolateral (DLPFC), inferior prefrontal cortex (IFC) and anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). Additional areas of relatively reduced activation were in the parietal lobes during the Stop and Switch tasks, putamen, insula and temporal lobes during the Switch task and precuneus during the Simon task.

Conclusions:  This study shows first evidence that medication-naïve adolescents with MDD are characterised by abnormal function in ACG and right lateral prefrontal cortex during tasks of attention and performance monitoring, suggesting an early pathogenesis of these functional abnormalities attributed to MDD.