Weak reward source memory in depression reflects blunted activation of VTA/SN and parahippocampus

Daniel G. Dillon, Ian G. Dobbins, Diego A. Pizzagalli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Reward responses in the medial temporal lobes and dopaminergic midbrain boost episodic memory formation in healthy adults, and weak memory for emotionally positive material in depression suggests this mechanism may be dysfunctional in major depressive disorder (MDD). To test this hypothesis, we performed a study in which unmedicated adults with MDD and healthy controls encoded drawings paired with reward or zero tokens during functional magnetic resonance imaging. In a recognition test, participants judged whether drawings were previously associated with the reward token ('reward source') or the zero token ('zero source'). Unlike controls, depressed participants failed to show better memory for drawings from the reward source vs the zero source. Consistent with predictions, controls also showed a stronger encoding response to reward tokens vs zero tokens in the right parahippocampus and dopaminergic midbrain, whereas the MDD group showed the opposite pattern-stronger responses to zero vs reward tokens-in these regions. Differential activation of the dopaminergic midbrain by reward vs zero tokens was positively correlated with the reward source memory advantage in controls, but not depressed participants. These data suggest that weaker memory for positive material in depression reflects blunted encoding responses in the dopaminergic midbrain and medial temporal lobes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1576-1583
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Depression
  • FMRI
  • Memory
  • Reward


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