Visuospatial planning in unmedicated major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder: distinct and common neural correlates

M. M. Rive, M. W. J. Koeter, D. J. Veltman, A. H. Schene, H. G. Ruhé

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive impairments are an important feature of both remitted and depressed major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder (BD). In particular, deficits in executive functioning may hamper everyday functioning. Identifying the neural substrates of impaired executive functioning would improve our understanding of the pathophysiology underlying these disorders, and may eventually aid in discriminating between MDD and BD, which is often difficult during depression and remission. To date, mostly medicated MDD and BD subjects have been investigated, which may have influenced results. Therefore, we investigated executive functioning in medication-free depressed and remitted MDD and BD subjects. We used the Tower of London (ToL) visuospatial planning task to assess behavioural performance and blood oxygen-level dependent responses in 35 healthy controls, 21 remitted MDD, 23 remitted BD, 19 depressed MDD and nine depressed BD subjects. Visuospatial planning per se was associated with increased frontostriatal activity in depressed BD compared to depressed MDD. In addition, post-hoc analyses indicated that visuospatial planning load was associated with increased parietal activity in depressed compared to remitted subjects, and BD compared to MDD subjects. Task performance did not significantly differ between groups. More severely affected, medication-free mood disorder patients require greater parietal activity to perform in visuospatial planning, which may be compensatory to maintain relatively normal performance. State-dependent frontostriatal hyperactivity during planning may be a specific BD characteristic, providing clues for further characterization of differential pathophysiology in MDD v. BD. This could potentially provide a biomarker to aid in the differentiation of these disorders
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2313-2328
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


  • Bipolar disorder
  • executive functioning
  • fMRI
  • major depressive disorder
  • mood state
  • visuospatial planning

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