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Neural correlates of attention biases of people with major depressive disorder: a voxel-based morphometric study

  • K.-K. Leung (a1), T. M. C. Lee (a1) (a2) (a3), M. M. C. Wong (a4), L. S. W. Li (a5), P. S. F. Yip (a6) (a7) and P.-L. Khong (a8)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 23 October 2008

Patients with major depressive disorder are found to show selective attention biases towards mood-congruent information. Although previous studies have identified various structural changes in the brains of these patients, it remains unclear whether the structural abnormalities are associated with these attention biases. In this study, we used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to explore the structural correlates of attention biases towards depression-related stimuli.


Seventeen female patients with major depressive disorder and 17 female healthy controls, matched on age and intelligence, underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They also performed positive-priming (PP) and negative-priming (NP) tasks involving neutral and negative words that assessed selective attention biases. The reaction time (RT) to a target word that had been attended to or ignored in a preceding trial was measured on the PP and NP tasks respectively. The structural differences between the two groups were correlated with the indexes of attention biases towards the negative words.


The enhanced facilitation of attention to stimuli in the PP task by the negative valence was only found in the depressed patients, not in the healthy controls. Such attention biases towards negative stimuli were found to be associated with reduced gray-matter concentration (GMC) in the right superior frontal gyrus, the right anterior cingulate gyrus and the right fusiform gyrus. No differential effect in inhibition of attention towards negative stimuli in the NP task was found between the depressed patients and the healthy controls.


Specific structural abnormalities in depression are associated with their attention biases towards mood-congruent information.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: T. M. C. Lee, Ph.D., K610, Laboratory of Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong. (Email:
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