Journal of Neural Transmission

, Volume 122, Issue 9, pp 1339–1352 | Cite as

Early processing of emotional faces in a Go/NoGo task: lack of N170 right-hemispheric specialisation in children with major depression

  • Madlen Grunewald
  • Stephanie Stadelmann
  • Daniel Brandeis
  • Sonia Jaeger
  • Tina Matuschek
  • Steffi Weis
  • Virgenie Kalex
  • Andreas Hiemisch
  • Kai von Klitzing
  • Mirko Döhnert
Psychiatry and Preclinical Psychiatric Studies - Original Article


Emotionally biased information processing towards sad and away from happy information characterises individuals with major depression. To learn more about the nature of these dysfunctional modulations, developmental and neural aspects of emotional face processing have to be considered. By combining measures of performance (attention control, inhibition) in an emotional Go/NoGo task with an event-related potential (ERP) of early face processing (N170), we obtained a multifaceted picture of emotional face processing in a sample of children and adolescents (11–14 years) with major depression (MDD, n = 26) and healthy controls (CTRL, n = 26). Subjects had to respond to emotional faces (fearful, happy or sad) and withhold their response to calm faces or vice versa. Children of the MDD group displayed shorter N170 latencies than children of the CTRL group. Typical right lateralisation of the N170 was observed for all faces in the CTRL but not for happy and calm faces in the MDD group. However, the MDD group did not differ in their behavioural reaction to emotional faces, and effects of interference by emotional information on the reaction to calm faces in this group were notably mild. Although we could not find a typical pattern of emotional bias, the results suggest that alterations in face processing of children with major depression can be seen at early stages of face perception indexed by the N170. The findings call for longitudinal examinations considering effects of development in children with major depression as well as associations to later stages of processing.


N170 Children Face processing Major depression Hemispheric specialisation 



Major depression


Healthy controls




Event-related potential


Reaction time


Commission errors



This study was supported by LIFE—Leipzig Research Center for Civilization Diseases, Universität Leipzig. LIFE is funded by means of the European Union, by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and by means of the Free State of Saxony within the framework of the excellence initiative.

Conflict of interest

The authors state that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Madlen Grunewald
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephanie Stadelmann
    • 1
    • 2
  • Daniel Brandeis
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
  • Sonia Jaeger
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tina Matuschek
    • 1
    • 2
  • Steffi Weis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Virgenie Kalex
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andreas Hiemisch
    • 1
    • 3
  • Kai von Klitzing
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mirko Döhnert
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.LIFE-Leipzig Research Center for Civilization DiseasesUniversität LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and PsychosomaticsUniversität LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.Department of Women and Child HealthHospital for Children and Adolescents, University Hospitals, Universität LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Central Institute of Mental HealthMedical Faculty Mannheim/Heidelberg UniversityMannheimGermany
  5. 5.Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  6. 6.Center for Integrative Human PhysiologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  7. 7.Neuroscience Center ZurichUniversity of Zurich and ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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