Document Type



Affective disorders, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Cognitive control, Dimensionality, MDD, PTSD, RDoC


BACKGROUND: Both major depressive disorder (MDD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are characterized by depressive symptoms, abnormalities in brain regions important for cognitive control, and response to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). However, whether a common neural mechanism underlies CBT response across diagnoses is unknown. METHODS: Brain activity during a cognitive control task was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging in 104 participants: 28 patients with MDD, 53 patients with PTSD, and 23 healthy control subjects; depression and anxiety symptoms were determined on the same day. A patient subset (n = 31) entered manualized CBT and, along with controls (n = 19), was rescanned at 12 weeks. Linear mixed effects models assessed the relationship between depression and anxiety symptoms and brain activity before and after CBT. RESULTS: At baseline, activation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was negatively correlated with Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale scores across all participants; this brain–symptom association did not differ between MDD and PTSD. Following CBT treatment of patients, regions within the cognitive control network, including ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, showed a significant increase in activity. CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that dimensional abnormalities in the activation of cognitive control regions were associated primarily with symptoms of depression (with or without controlling for anxious arousal). Furthermore, following treatment with CBT, activation of cognitive control regions was similarly increased in both MDD and PTSD. These results accord with the Research Domain Criteria conceptualization of mental disorders and implicate improved cognitive control activation as a transdiagnostic mechanism for CBT treatment outcome.

Publication Date

December 2017

Publication Title

Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging





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