Decreased Fronto-Limbic Activation and Disrupted Semantic-Cued List Learning in Major Depressive Disorder

Michelle T. Kassel, Julia A. Rao, Sara J. Walker, Emily M. Bricenõ, Laura B. Gabriel, Anne L. Weldon, Erich T. Avery, Brennan D. Haase, Marta Pecinã, Ciaran M. Considine, Douglas C. Noll, Linas A. Bieliauskas, Monica N. Starkman, Jon Kar Zubieta, Robert C. Welsh, Bruno Giordani, Sara L. Weisenbach, Scott A. Langenecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objectives: Individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) demonstrate poorer learning and memory skills relative to never-depressed comparisons (NDC). Previous studies report decreased volume and disrupted function of frontal lobes and hippocampi in MDD during memory challenge. However, it has been difficult to dissociate contributions of short-term memory and executive functioning to memory difficulties from those that might be attributable to long-term memory deficits. Methods: Adult males (MDD, n=19; NDC, n=22) and females (MDD, n=23; NDC, n=19) performed the Semantic List Learning Task (SLLT) during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The SLLT Encoding condition consists of 15 lists, each containing 14 words. After each list, a Distractor condition occurs, followed by cued Silent Rehearsal instructions. Post-scan recall and recognition were collected. Groups were compared using block (Encoding-Silent Rehearsal) and event-related (Words Recalled) models. Results: MDD displayed lower recall relative to NDC. NDC displayed greater activation in several temporal, frontal, and parietal regions, for both Encoding-Silent Rehearsal and the Words Recalled analyses. Groups also differed in activation patterns in regions of the Papez circuit in planned analyses. The majority of activation differences were not related to performance, presence of medications, presence of comorbid anxiety disorder, or decreased gray matter volume in MDD. Conclusions: Adults with MDD exhibit memory difficulties during a task designed to reduce the contribution of individual variability from short-term memory and executive functioning processes, parallel with decreased activation in memory and executive functioning circuits. Ecologically valid long-term memory tasks are imperative for uncovering neural correlates of memory performance deficits in adults with MDD. (JINS, 2016, 22, 412-425) .

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-425
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Depression
  • Hippocampus
  • List learning
  • Memory
  • Serial position
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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