Cerebral blood flow responses during prosaccade and antisaccade preparation in major depression

  • Alexandra HoffmannEmail author
  • Ulrich Ettinger
  • Casandra Montoro
  • Gustavo A. Reyes del Paso
  • Stefan Duschek
Original Paper


While impairments in executive functions have been well established in major depressive disorder (MDD), specific deficits in proactive control have scarcely been studied so far. Proactive control refers to cognitive processes during anticipation of a behaviorally relevant event that facilitate readiness to react. In this study, cerebral blood flow responses were investigated in MDD patients during a precued antisaccade task requiring preparatory attention and proactive inhibition. Using functional transcranial Doppler sonography, blood flow velocities in the middle cerebral arteries of both hemispheres were recorded in 40 MDD patients and 40 healthy controls. In the task, a target appeared left or right of the fixation point 5 s after a cuing stimulus; subjects had to move their gaze to the target (prosaccade) or its mirror image position (antisaccade). Video-based eye-tracking was applied for ocular recording. A right dominant blood flow increase arose during prosaccade and antisaccade preparation, which was smaller in MDD patients than controls. Patients exhibited a higher error rate than controls for antisaccades but not prosaccades. The smaller blood flow response may reflect blunted anticipatory activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal and inferior parietal cortices in MDD. The patients’ increased antisaccade error rate suggests deficient inhibitory control. The findings support the notion of impairments in proactive control in MDD, which are clinically relevant as they may contribute to the deficits in cognition and behavioral regulation that characterize the disorder.


Major depression Cerebral blood flow Executive functions Proactive control Antisaccades Transcranial Doppler sonography 



The study was supported by the Anniversary Fund of the Austrian National Bank (project 16289). We are grateful to Angela Bair for her help with the data analysis.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical standards

The study was approved by the Board for Ethical Questions in Science of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and, therefore, performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. All participants provided written informed consent.

Conflict of interest

There are no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Access to research data

The research data of the study are available to the public via the repository Open Science Framework (OSF:

Supplementary material

406_2018_956_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (55 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 55 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Hoffmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ulrich Ettinger
    • 2
  • Casandra Montoro
    • 1
  • Gustavo A. Reyes del Paso
    • 3
  • Stefan Duschek
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyUMIT - University of Health Sciences Medical Informatics and TechnologyHall in TirolAustria
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  3. 3.Institute of PsychologyUniversity of JaénJaénSpain

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