Objective Depression is linked to alterations in both emotion and self-processing. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess neural activation in healthy and depressed youth to a novel task that combined emotion processing with self-face recognition. Methods An fMRI study involving 81 adolescents (50.6% females; Mage=14.61, SD=1.65) comprised of depressed (DEP, n=43), and healthy controls (HC, n=38). Participants completed a clinical interview and self-report measures during an initial assessment. In the scanner, adolescents completed a face recognition task, viewing emotional (happy, sad, neutral) images of their own face (self) or the face of another youth (other). Results DEP youth showed higher activity in the cuneus (F=26.29) and post and precentral gyri (F=20.76), across all conditions compared to HC. Sad faces elicited higher posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus (F=10.36) and inferior parietal cortex activity (F=11.0), and self faces elicited higher precuneus, fusiform (F=16.39), insula and putamen (F=16.82) activity in all youth. DEP showed higher middle temporal activity to neutral faces but lower activity to sad faces compared to HC, who showed the opposite pattern (F=12.86). DEP also showed hypoactive mid-temporal limbic activity relative to controls when identifying their self happy face vs. neutral face, yet showed hyperactivity when identifying the other happy face vs. neutral face, and HC showed the opposite pattern (F=10.94). Conclusions The neurophysiology of self-face recognition is altered in adolescent depression. Specifically, depression was associated with decreased activity in neural areas that support emotional and associative processing for positive self-faces and increased processing for neutral self-faces. These results suggest that depression in adolescents is associated with hypoactive emotional processing and encoding of positive self-related visual information. This abnormal neural activity at the intersection of reward and self-processing among depressed youth might have long lasting impact in self-formation and future adult self-representations, given that adolescence is a sensitive period for self-development.
- Self-face processing