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Individual differences in threat and reward neural circuitry activation: Testing dimensional models of early adversity, anxiety and depression

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Katherine S. Young, Camilla Ward, Meghan Vinograd, Kelly Chen, Susan Y. Bookheimer, Robin Nusslock, Richard E. Zinbarg, Michelle G. Craske

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2739-2753
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number9-10
Early online date19 Jan 2022
Accepted/In press2022
E-pub ahead of print19 Jan 2022
PublishedMay 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award number R01MH100117, awarded to MGC, SYB, RN and REZ. KSY is supported by funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. MV is supported by the Office of Academic Affiliations, Advanced Fellowship Program in Mental Illness Research and Treatment, Department of Veterans Affairs. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience published by Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

King's Authors


Altered functioning of the brain's threat and reward circuitry has been linked to early life adversity and to symptoms of anxiety and depression. To date, however, these relationships have been studied largely in isolation and in categorical-based approaches. It is unclear to what extent early life adversity and psychopathology have unique effects on brain functioning during threat and reward processing. We examined functional brain activity during a face processing task in threat (amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex) and reward (ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex) regions of interest among a sample (N = 103) of young adults (aged 18–19 years) in relation to dimensional measures of early life adversity and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Results demonstrated a significant association between higher scores on the deprivation adversity dimension and greater activation of reward neural circuitry during viewing of happy faces, with the largest effect sizes observed in the orbitofrontal cortex. We found no significant associations between the threat adversity dimension, or symptom dimensions of anxiety and depression, and neural activation in threat or reward circuitries. These results lend partial support to theories of adversity-related alterations in neural activation and highlight the importance of testing dimensional models of adversity and psychopathology in large sample sizes to further our understanding of the biological processes implicated.

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