The amygdala plays a pivotal role in a cortico-limbic circuitry implicated in emotion processing and regulation. In the present study, functional connectivity of the amygdala with prefrontal areas involved in emotion regulation was investigated during a facial expression processing task in a sample of 34 depressed inpatients and 31 healthy controls. All patients were genotyped for a common functional variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) polymorphism in the promoter region of the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA u-VNTR) which has been previously associated with major depression as well as reduced cortico-limbic connectivity in healthy subjects. In our control group, we observed tight coupling of the amygdala and dorsal prefrontal areas comprising the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), dorsal parts of the anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), and lateral orbitofrontal cortex. Amygdala–prefrontal connectivity was significantly reduced in depressed patients and carriers of the higher active MAOA risk alleles (MAOA-H). Hence, depressed MAOA-H carriers showed the weakest amygdala–prefrontal coupling of the investigated subgroups. Furthermore, reduced coupling of this circuitry predicted more than 40% variance of clinical variables characterizing a longer and more severe course of disease. We conclude that genetic variation in the MAOA gene may affect the course of major depression by disrupting cortico-limbic connectivity.
(Received January 20 2008)
(Reviewed March 30 2008)
(Revised April 13 2008)
(Accepted April 25 2008)
(Online publication June 11 2008)
c1 Address for correspondence: Prof. Dr. T. Suslow, Department of Psychiatry, University of Münster, Albert-Schweitzer-Str. 11, 48149 Münster, Germany. Tel.: +49-251-8356601 Fax: +49-251-8356612 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org