Deficits in emotion processing, a known clinical feature of major depressive disorder (MDD), have been widely investigated using emotional face paradigms and neuroimaging. However, most studies have not accounted for the high inter-subject variability of symptom severity. Similarly, only sparse research has focused on MDD in adolescence, early in the course of the illness. Here we sought to investigate neural responses to emotional faces using both categorical and dimensional analyses with a focus on anhedonia, a core symptom of MDD associated with poor outcomes. Nineteen medication-free depressed adolescents and 18 healthy controls (HC) were scanned during presentation of happy, sad, fearful, and neutral faces. ANCOVAs and regressions assessed group differences and relationships with illness and anhedonia severity, respectively. Findings included a group by valence interaction with depressed adolescents exhibiting decreased activity in the superior temporal gyrus (STG), putamen and premotor cortex. Post-hoc analyses confirmed decreased STG activity in MDD adolescents. Dimensional analyses revealed associations between illness severity and altered responses to negative faces in prefrontal, cingulate, striatal, and limbic regions. However, anhedonia severity was uniquely correlated with responses to happy faces in the prefrontal, cingulate, and insular regions. Our work highlights the need for studying specific symptoms dimensionally in psychiatric research.
- Emotion perception