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Cognition in Mood Disorders

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Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00482

A dissociation of the acute effects of bupropion on positive emotional processing and reward processing in healthy volunteers

Annabel Walsh1,  Nathan Huneke1,  Randi Brown1,  Michael Browning1, Phil Cowen1 and  Catherine Harmer2*
  • 1University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 2Warneford Hospital, United Kingdom

Background: Previous research indicates that antidepressants can restore the balance between negative and positive emotional processing early in treatment, indicating a role of this effect in later mood improvement. However, less is known about the effect of antidepressants on reward processing despite the potential relevance to the treatment of anhedonia. In this study, we investigated the effects of an acute dose of the atypical antidepressant (dual dopamine and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor) bupropion on behavioural measures of emotional and reward processing in healthy volunteers. Methods: 40 healthy participants were randomly allocated to double-blind intervention with either an acute dose of bupropion or placebo prior to performing the Emotional Test Battery and a probabilistic instrumental learning task. Results: Acute bupropion significantly increased the recognition of ambiguous faces as happy, decreased response bias towards sad faces and reduced attentional vigilance for fearful faces compared to placebo. Bupropion also reduced negative bias compared to placebo in the emotional recognition memory task. There was no evidence that bupropion enhanced reward processing or learning. Instead, bupropion was associated with reduced likelihood to choose high-probability wins and increased score on a subjective measure of anhedonia. Conclusions: Whilst acute bupropion decreases negative and increases positive emotional processing, it has an adverse effect on reward processing. There seems to be a dissociation of the acute effects of bupropion on positive emotional processing and reward processing, which may have clinical implications for anhedonia early in treatment.

Keywords: emotion, Antidepressants, Dopamine, Reward, Depression, Anhedonia

Received: 19 Jul 2018; Accepted: 13 Sep 2018.

Edited by:

Gianluca Serafini, Dipartimento di Neuroscienze e Organi di Senso, Ospedale San Martino (IRCCS), Italy

Reviewed by:

Matthew J. Knight, University of Adelaide, Australia
Célia Fourrier, Adelaide Medical School, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Australia  

Copyright: © 2018 Walsh, Huneke, Brown, Browning, Cowen and Harmer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Catherine Harmer, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, United Kingdom,