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Amygdala activity during autobiographical recall in depressed and vulnerable individuals: Association with symptom severity and autobiographical overgenerality
Young KD, Siegle GJ, Bodurka J and Drevets WC
American Journal of Psychiatry, 173:78-89, 2016


In healthy individuals, autobiographical memory recall is biased toward positive and away from negative events, while the opposite is found in depressed individuals. Dr. Kymberly Young, who joined the Department of Psychiatry faculty in April 2016, collaborated with fellow Pitt researcher Dr. Greg Siegle and others to examine amygdala activity during autobiographical memory recall as a putative mechanism underlying biased memory recall and depressive symptoms in currently depressed adults and two vulnerable populations: individuals remitted from depression and otherwise healthy individuals at high familial risk of developing depression. Identification of such vulnerability factors could enable interception strategies that prevent depression onset.

Dr. Young recruited 60 healthy control subjects, 45 unmedicated currently depressed individuals, 25 unmedicated remitted depressed individuals, and 30 individuals at high familial risk of developing depression for this project.  Participants underwent functional MRI while recalling autobiographical memories in response to emotionally valenced cue words. Amygdala reactivity and connectivity with anatomically defined amygdala regions were examined.

Dr. Young and her colleagues found that during positive memory recall, depressed participants exhibited significantly decreased left amygdala activity and decreased connectivity with regions of the salience network compared with the other groups. During negative memory recall, control subjects had significantly decreased left amygdala activity compared with the other groups, while depressed participants exhibited increased amygdala connectivity with the salience network. In depressed participants, left amygdala activity during positive recall correlated significantly with depression severity and percent of positive specific memories recalled.  The results suggest that left amygdala hyperactivity during negative autobiographical recall is a trait-like marker of depression, as both vulnerable groups showed activity similar to the depressed group, while amygdala hypoactivity during positive autobiographical recall is a state marker of depression manifesting in active disease. Treatments targeting amygdala hypoactivity and blunted salience during positive autobiographical recall could exert antidepressant effects.

Contributors:
Kymberly D. Young, PhD and Greg J. Siegle, PhD (Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine)

Jerzy Bodurka, PhD (Laureate Institute for Brain Research)

Wayne C. Drevets, MD (Janssen Pharmaceuticals, LLC, of Johnson & Johnson, Inc.)

This article appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry.  Click here to view the abstract.