Right brain, left brain in depressive disorders: Clinical and theoretical implications of behavioral, electrophysiological and neuroimaging findings

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The right and left side of the brain are asymmetric in anatomy and function. We review electrophysiological (EEG and event-related potential), behavioral (dichotic and visual perceptual asymmetry), and neuroimaging (PET, MRI, NIRS) evidence of right-left asymmetry in depressive disorders. Recent electrophysiological and fMRI studies of emotional processing have provided new evidence of altered laterality in depressive disorders. EEG alpha asymmetry and neuroimaging findings at rest and during cognitive or emotional tasks are consistent with reduced left prefrontal activity in depressed patients, which may impair downregulation of amygdala response to negative emotional information. Dichotic listening and visual hemifield findings for non-verbal or emotional processing have revealed abnormal perceptual asymmetry in depressive disorders, and electrophysiological findings have shown reduced right-lateralized responsivity to emotional stimuli in occipitotemporal or parietotemporal cortex. We discuss models of neural networks underlying these alterations. Of clinical relevance, individual differences among depressed patients on measures of right-left brain function are related to diagnostic subtype of depression, comorbidity with anxiety disorders, and clinical response to antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy.

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