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Neural Processing of Reward and Punishment in Young People at Increased Familial Risk of Depression

      Background

      Abnormalities in the neural representation of rewarding and aversive stimuli have been well-described in patients with acute depression, and we previously found abnormal neural responses to rewarding and aversive sight and taste stimuli in recovered depressed patients. The aim of the present study was to determine whether similar abnormalities might be present in young people at increased familial risk of depression but with no personal history of mood disorder.

      Methods

      We therefore used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural responses to pleasant and aversive sights and tastes in 25 young people (16–21 years of age) with a biological parent with depression and 25 age- and gender-matched control subjects.

      Results

      We found that, relative to the control subjects, participants with a parental history of depression showed diminished responses in the orbitofrontal cortex to rewarding stimuli, whereas activations to aversive stimuli were increased in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and insula. In anterior cingulate cortex the at-risk group showed blunted neural responses to both rewarding and aversive stimuli.

      Conclusions

      Our findings suggest that young people at increased familial risk of depression have altered neural representation of reward and punishment, particularly in cortical regions linked to the use of positive and negative feedback to guide adaptive behavior.

      Key Words

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      Linked Article

      • A “Taste” of What is to Come: Reward Sensitivity as a Potential Endophenotype for Major Depressive Disorder
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 72Issue 7
        • Preview
          Nearly 40% of patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) experience a loss of interest and responsiveness to previously rewarding stimuli and activities, a condition referred to clinically as anhedonia (see [1] for review). Anhedonia is one of the most treatment-resistant aspects of depression (2), and there is good reason to believe that the pathophysiology underlying this symptom complex may at least partly involve hypoactivity within the mesolimbic dopamine pathway and related brain structures (3).
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