Self-referential processing influences functional activation during cognitive control: an fMRI study


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Abstract

Rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) plays a central role in the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder (MDD). As we reported in our previous study (Wagner et al., 2006), patients with MDD were characterized by an inability to deactivate this region during cognitive processing leading to a compensatory prefrontal hyperactivation. This hyperactivation in rACC may be related to a deficient inhibitory control of negative self-referential processes, which in turn may interfere with cognitive control task execution and the underlying fronto-cingulate network activation. To test this assumption, a functional magnetic resonance imaging study was conducted in 34 healthy subjects. Univariate and functional connectivity analyses in statistical parametric mapping software 8 were used. Self-referential stimuli and the Stroop task were presented in an event-related design. As hypothesized, rACC was specifically engaged during negative self-referential processing (SRP) and was significantly related to the degree of depressive symptoms in participants. BOLD signal in rACC showed increased valence-dependent (negative vs neutral SRP) interaction with BOLD signal in prefrontal and dorsal anterior cingulate regions during Stroop task performance. This result provides strong support for the notion that enhanced rACC interacts with brain regions involved in cognitive control processes and substantiates our previous interpretation of increased rACC and prefrontal activation in patients during Stroop task.

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