Introduction: Alcoholism is associated with a deficit in the processing of emotional facial expressions (EFE) and with a delayed P3b component, partially mediated by earlier perceptive deficits (P100, N170). Since alcohol dependence often occurs with depression, we aim at investigating whether classical event-related potentials (ERP) alterations observed in alcoholism are modulated or not by depression. Methods: Four groups (controls; alcoholics; depressed; alcoholics-depressed) of 12 participants performed two different discrimination tasks, a gender and an emotional one. They had to decide as quickly as possible about the gender or the emotion displayed by facial stimuli during an ERP recording session (32 channels). Reaction times (RTs), P100, N100, N170 and P3b were recorded. Results: At the behavioural level, control participants discriminated EFE (but not gender) more rapidly than the three other groups. At the ERP level, the differences observed on RTs for emotional task were neurophysiologically indexed by a delayed P3b component. This delay was associated with earlier ERP alterations (P100, N100, N170), but only in participants suffering from alcohol dependence, in association or not with depression. Discussion: On the one hand, individuals with alcoholism, associated or not with a comorbid depression, were impaired in the processing of EFE. This deficit was neurophysiologically indexed by early perceptive (P100, N100, N170) and decisional (P3b) alterations. On the other hand, non-alcoholic patients with depression only exhibited P3b impairment. These results lead to potential implications concerning the usefulness of the ERP for the differential diagnosis in psychiatry, notably concerning the comorbidities in alcoholism. © 2008 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.
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