The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology

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The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology (2009), 12:11-22 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © 2008 CINP

Research Article

Reduced amygdala–prefrontal coupling in major depression: association with MAOA genotype and illness severity

Udo Dannlowskia1a2, Patricia Ohrmanna1, Carsten Konrada1a2, Katharina Domschkea1, Jochen Bauera1, Harald Kugela3, Christa Hohoffa1, Sonja Schöninga1a2, Anette Kerstinga1, Bernhard T. Baunea1a4, Lena S. Mortensena1, Volker Arolta1, Pienie Zwitserlooda5, Jürgen Deckerta1a6, Walter Heindela3 and Thomas Suslowa1 c1

a1 Department of Psychiatry, University of Münster, Germany
a2 IZKF-Research Group 4, IZKF Münster, University of Münster, Germany
a3 Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Münster, Germany
a4 Department of Psychiatry, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia
a5 Department of Psychology, University of Münster, Germany
a6 Department of Psychiatry, University of Würzburg, Germany
Article author query
dannlowski u [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
ohrmann p [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
konrad c [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
domschke k [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
bauer j [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
kugel h [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
hohoff c [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
schöning s [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
kersting a [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
baune bt [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
mortensen ls [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
arolt v [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
zwitserlood p [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
deckert j [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
heindel w [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
suslow t [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


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)

Key Words:Amygdala; fMRI; genetics; major depression; monoamine oxidase A


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: