Frontal Alpha Asymmetry and Its Modulation by Monoaminergic Neurotransmitters in Depression
Paul J. Fitzgerald
Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Correspondence to: Paul J. Fitzgerald
Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, 703 Third Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
Received: October 14, 2023; Revised: January 22, 2024; Accepted: February 13, 2024; Published online: March 4, 2024.
© The Korean College of Neuropsychopharmacology. All rights reserved.

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Frontal alpha asymmetry (FAA) is an electroencephalography (EEG) measure that quantifies trait-like left versus right hemisphere lateralization in alpha power. Increased FAA indicates relatively greater left than right frontal cortex activation and is associated with enhanced reward-related approach behaviors rather than avoidance or withdrawal. Studies dating back several decades have often suggested that having greater FAA supports enhanced positive affect and protection against major depressive disorder (MDD), whereas having greater right frontal activation (i.e., reduced FAA) is associated with negative affect and risk for MDD. While this hypothesis is widely known, a number of other studies instead have found increased FAA in MDD, or evidence that either leftward or rightward bias in FAA is associated with depression. Here we briefly review the literature on leftward or rightward lateralization in FAA in MDD, and find much evidence that MDD is not always characterized by reduced FAA. We also review the limited literature on FAA and monoaminergic neurotransmitter systems, including pharmacologic agents that act on them. Studies of serotonin in particular provide genetic and pharmacologic evidence for modulation of FAA, where some of these data may suggest that serotonin reduces FAA. In a synthesis of the collective literature on FAA and the monoamines, we suggest that serotonin and norepinephrine may differentially affect FAA, with serotonin tending to promote right frontal activation and norepinephrine biased toward left frontal activation. These putative differences in frontal lateralization may influence MDD phenotypes or potential subtypes of the disorder, and suggest pharmacologic treatment strategies.
Keywords: Serotonin; Norepinephrine; Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors; Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors; Atypical antipsychotics; Electroencephalography

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