Subgenual Cingulum Microstructure Supports Control of Emotional Conflict

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Abstract

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with specific difficulties in attentional disengagement from negatively valenced material. Diffusion MRI studies have demonstrated altered white matter microstructure in the subgenual cingulum bundle (CB) in individuals with MDD, though the functional significance of these alterations has not been examined formally. This study explored whether individual differences in selective attention to negatively valenced stimuli are related to interindividual differences in subgenual CB microstructure. Forty-six individuals (21 with remitted MDD, 25 never depressed) completed an emotional Stroop task, using happy and angry distractor faces overlaid by pleasant or unpleasant target words and a control gender-based Stroop task. CBs were reconstructed in 38 individuals using diffusion-weighted imaging and tractography, and mean fractional anisotropy (FA) computed for the subgenual, retrosplenial, and parahippocampal subdivisions. No significant correlations were found between FA and performance in the control gender-based Stroop task in any CB region. However, the degree of interference produced by angry face distractors on time to identify pleasant words (emotional conflict) correlated selectively with FA in the subgenual CB (r = −0.53; P = 0.01). Higher FA was associated with reduced interference, irrespective of a diagnosis of MDD, suggesting that subgenual CB microstructure is functionally relevant for regulating attentional bias toward negative interpersonal stimuli.

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