Rostrolateral prefrontal cortex modulation using real-time fMRI feedback training in healthy volunteers and depressed patients

Depression is a common mental disorder characterized by sadness, low energy, feelings of guilt and low self-worth. Even after patients recover from a major episode of depression, they remain vulnerable to subsequent depression relapse. Such depression relapse can be triggered by a relatively mild experience of sadness, during which depression vulnerability expresses itself through reduced metacognitive awareness: the awareness of one’s own thought processes. Neuroimaging studies suggest that increased activation within the brain’s lateral prefrontal cortex—the same region linked to metacognitive awareness—is a positive result of treatment for depression, and that consistent activation may reduce the risk of depressive relapse. Dr. Kalina Christoff is researching whether patients who are prone to depression can prevent relapse by learning how to better control their brain activity within this region. She is examining whether real-time feedback from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can help patients learn to consciously modulate their brain activity and prevent or reduce relapse.