Subclinical depression and anxiety impact verbal memory functioning differently in men and women —an fMRI study

Gildas Brébion*, Christian Núñez, Federica Lombardini, Carl Senior, Ana María Sánchez Laforga, Sara Siddi, Judith Usall, Christian Stephan-Otto

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Depressive symptoms are known to affect memory efficiency in various populations. More specifically, several studies conducted in patients suffering from schizophrenia have indicated that memory efficiency is affected by depressed mood in female patients and by anxiety in male patients. We investigated, using neuroimaging techniques, whether similar gender-specific associations with subclinical depression and anxiety could be observed in a non-clinical sample. Method: Forty-five healthy Spanish-speaking individuals (23 females) were administered a verbal memory task. Lists of high- and low-frequency words were presented. Immediate free recall was requested after the learning of each list, and a yes/no recognition task was completed during the acquisition of the fMRI data. Results: Regression analyses revealed that higher depression scores in women, and higher anxiety scores in men, were associated with poorer recall. In women, higher depression scores were further associated with decreased cerebral activity in the right temporoparietal junction, left inferior occipitotemporal gyrus, bilateral thalamus, and left anterior cingulate during correct recognition of target words. In men, anxiety scores were not associated with any cerebral activity. Conclusions: Subclinical depression in women appears to affect memory efficiency by impacting cerebral regions specifically recruited for the cognitive demands of the task, as well as cerebral regions more generally involved in arousal, decision-making, and emotional regulation. Anxiety in men might impact the encoding memory processes. The results, although preliminary, suggest that gender differences may need to be taken into account when developing strategies for the cognitive and pharmacological remediation of memory impairment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-315
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Early online date27 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding: This work was supported by a Miguel Servet contract ( CP09/00292 ) and grant PI14/00047 from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III – Subdirección General de Evaluación y Fomento de la Investigación Sanitaria – co-funded by Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional ( FEDER ), both to GB.


  • Anxiety
  • Brain imaging
  • Depression
  • Gender effects
  • Verbal memory


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