Considering sex differences clarifies the effects of depression on facial emotion processing during fMRI

L. M. Jenkins, A. D. Kendall, M. T. Kassel, V. G. Patrón, J. R. Gowins, C. Dion, Stewart A Shankman, S. L. Weisenbach, P. Maki, S. A. Langenecker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background Sex differences in emotion processing may play a role in women's increased risk for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). However, studies of sex differences in brain mechanisms involved in emotion processing in MDD (or interactions of sex and diagnosis) are sparse. Methods We conducted an event-related fMRI study examining the interactive and distinct effects of sex and MDD on neural activity during a facial emotion perception task. To minimize effects of current affective state and cumulative disease burden, we studied participants with remitted MDD (rMDD) who were early in the course of the illness. In total, 88 individuals aged 18–23 participated, including 48 with rMDD (32 female) and 40 healthy controls (HC; 25 female). Results fMRI revealed an interaction between sex and diagnosis for sad and neutral facial expressions in the superior frontal gyrus and left middle temporal gyrus. Results also revealed an interaction of sex with diagnosis in the amygdala. Limitations Data was from two sites, which might increase variability, but it also increases power to examine sex by diagnosis interactions. Conclusions This study demonstrates the importance of taking sex differences into account when examining potential trait (or scar) mechanisms that could be useful in identifying individuals at-risk for MDD as well as for evaluating potential therapeutic innovations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-136
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • FMRI
  • Facial emotion perception
  • Major depression
  • Remitted
  • Sex differences
  • Superior frontal gyrus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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