Hard to look on the bright side: Neural correlates of impaired emotion regulation in depressed youth

Katerina Stephanou, Christopher G. Davey, Rebecca Kerestes, Sarah Whittle, Ben J. Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The cognitive regulation of emotion is impaired in major depressive disorder and has been linked to an imbalance of prefrontal- subcortical brain activity. Despite suggestions that this relationship represents a neurodevelopmental marker of depression, few studies have examined the neural correlates of emotion regulation in depressed youth.We combined a 'cognitive reappraisal' paradigm with functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the neural correlates of emotional regulation in a large sample of non-medicated depressed adolescents and young adults (n=53) and healthy controls (n=64). As compared with healthy controls, young people with depression were less able to reduce negative affect during reappraisal, which corresponded to blunted modulation of amygdala activity. While in healthy individuals amygdala activation was modulated by age, no such relationship was observed in depressed individuals. Heightened activation of the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex (vmPFC) and reduced activation of the dorsal midline cortex was also found for the depressed group. Overall, these findings suggest that brain systems that support cognitive reappraisal are functionally altered in youth depression. We argue that excessive engagement of the vmPFC in particular, may be central to understanding how the process of putting a 'positive spin' on negative emotional material may be altered in depressed youth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbernsx039
Pages (from-to)1138-1148
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Development
  • Emotion regulation
  • FMRI
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Reappraisal

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