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Keywords:

  • major depressive disorder;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • anterior cingulate cortex;
  • PET;
  • MRI

Abstract: The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been implicated in the pathophysiology of major depression by evidence obtained using neuroimaging, neuropathologic, and lesion analysis techniques. The abnormalities revealed by these techniques show a regional specificity, and suggest that some OFC regions which appear cytoarchitectonically distinct also are functionally distinct with respect to mood regulation. For example, the severity of depression correlates inversely with physiological activity in parts of the posterior lateral and medial OFC, consistent with evidence that dysfunction of the OFC associated with cerebrovascular lesions increases the vulnerability for developing the major depressive syndrome. The posterior lateral and medial OFC function may also be impaired in individuals who develop primary mood disorders, as these patients show grey-matter volumetric reductions, histopathologic abnormalities, and altered hemodynamic responses to emotionally valenced stimuli, probabilistic reversal learning, and reward processing. In contrast, physiological activity in the anteromedial OFC situated in the ventromedial frontal polar cortex increases during the depressed versus the remitted phases of major depressive disorder to an extent that is positively correlated with the severity of depression. Effective antidepressant treatment is associated with a reduction in activity in this region. Taken together these data are compatible with evidence from studies in experimental animals indicating that some orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortex regions function to inhibit, while others function to enhance, emotional expression. Alterations in the functional balance between these regions and the circuits they form with anatomically related areas of the temporal lobe, striatum, thalamus, and brain stem thus may underlie the pathophysiology of mood disorders, such as major depression.