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Neural Processing Dysfunctions During Fear Learning but Not Reward-Related Processing Characterize Depressed Individuals With High Levels of Repetitive Negative Thinking

Published:January 19, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpsc.2022.01.002

      Abstract

      Background

      Repetitive negative thinking (RNT) is a symptom dimension of depression that is associated with a poorer prognosis in terms of higher recurrence, treatment resistance, residual symptoms, and disability. This investigation examined whether RNT is associated with aberrant reward processing and fear learning.

      Methods

      Very high RNT (VH-RNT) (n = 60) and high RNT (H-RNT) (n = 60) propensity-matched individuals with depression (age, sex, race/ethnicity, income/employment, body mass index, depressive and anxiety symptom severity) participated in this study along with matched healthy comparison volunteers (n = 30). This propensity-matched sample was selected from the larger Tulsa 1000 study. Participants performed two functional magnetic resonance imaging tasks: the monetary incentive delay task probing reward processing and the fear conditioning task probing aversive learning and extinction.

      Results

      Both VH-RNT and H-RNT groups showed lower neural activity than healthy comparison subjects in reward circuitry, including the inferior frontal gyrus (VH-RNT: β = −1.24, H-RNT: β = −1.28) and the cerebellum (VH-RNT: β = −0.93, H-RNT: β = −1.14). However, individuals with VH-RNT exhibited lower activation than those with H-RNT in central autonomic network components during fear conditioning (β = −0.84) and continued conditioned responses during early extinction in the postcentral cortex (β = 0.71).

      Conclusions

      VH-RNT showed aberrant processing in fear conditioning during both learning and extinction phases compared with H-RNT. These findings demonstrate that dysfunctions of negative valence associated with RNT may be domain specific, which should be taken into account for identifying potential specific targets of intervention.

      Keywords

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