Background: Previous studies have suggested that processing of visual contrast information could be altered in major depressive disorder. To clarify the changes at different levels of the visual hierarchy, we behaviourally measured contrast perception in 2 centre-surround conditions, assessing retinal and cortical processing. Methods: As part of a prospective cohort study, our sample consisted of controls (n = 29; 21 female) and patients with unipolar depression, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder who had baseline major depressive episodes (n = 111; 74 female). In a brightness induction test that assessed retinal processing, participants compared the perceived luminance of uniform patches (presented on a computer screen) as the luminance of the backgrounds was varied. In a contrast suppression test that assessed cortical processing, participants compared the perceived contrast of gratings, which were presented with collinearly or orthogonally oriented backgrounds. Results: Brightness induction was similar for patients with major depressive episodes and controls (p = 0.60, d = 0.115, Bayes factor = 3.9), but contrast suppression was significantly lower for patients than for controls (p < 0.006, d = 0.663, Bayes factor = 35.2). We observed no statistically significant associations between contrast suppression and age, sex, or medication or diagnostic subgroup. At follow-up (n = 74), we observed some normalization of contrast perception. Limitations: We assessed contrast perception using behavioural tests instead of electrophysiology. Conclusion: The reduced contrast suppression we observed may have been caused by decreased retinal feedforward or cortical feedback signals. Because we observed intact brightness induction, our results suggest normal retinal but altered cortical processing of visual contrast during a major depressive episode. This alteration is likely to be present in multiple types of depression and to partially normalize upon remission.
Fields of Science
- 3124 Neurology and psychiatry
- 515 Psychology
- OCCIPITAL CORTEX