AN important issue regarding the neural basis of major depression is whether the functional brain changes associated with the affect disturbance seen in this syndrome are similar to those that accompany transient sadness in normal subjects. To address this question, we carried out an fMRI study using an emotional activation paradigm. Brain activity associated with passive viewing of an emotionally laden film clip aimed at inducing a transient state of sadness was contrasted with that associated with passive viewing of an emotionally neutral film clip in patients suffering from unipolar depression and in normal control subjects. Results showed that transient sadness produced significant activation in the medial and inferior prefrontal cortices, the middle temporal cortex, the cerebellum and the caudate in both depressed and normal subjects. They also revealed that passive viewing of the emotionally laden film clip produced a significantly greater activation in the left medial prefrontal cortex and in the right cingulate gyrus in depressed patients than in normal control subjects. These findings suggest that these two cortical regions might be part of a neural network implicated in the pathophysiology of major depression. Taken together, these results strongly support the view that activation paradigms represent an extremely useful and powerful way of delineating the functional anatomy of the various symptoms that characterize major depression.