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Social Reward in Youth at Risk for Depression: A Preliminary Investigation of Subjective and Neural Differences
Olino TM, Silk JS, Osterritter C and Forbes EE
Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, Published Online

Offspring of depressed parents are at risk for developing depression at rates higher than the general population. One potential mechanism linking parent and offspring depression involves low responding in the brain’s reward circuitry. Despite the importance of social incentives for adolescents, no previous studies have relied on active social incentive reward paradigms in youth at risk for depression. Dr. Erika Forbes and her colleagues examined differences in youth self- and parent-report measures of and neural response to social reward between youth of mothers with and those of mothers without a history of depression. The investigators collected Imaging data on 10 youth with a depressed mother and 23 youth without a depressed parent.

During a functional MRI scan, participants completed a task involving social reward: feedback about social acceptance from other adolescents. Youth and parents also completed self-report measures of social experiences and behaviors. Results of this study indicated that offspring of depressed mothers had lower levels of parent-reported affiliation and reduced neural response to social reward in the ventral striatum and anterior cingulate cortex than offspring of parents without a history of depression. In addition, higher parent-reported affiliation was associated with greater ventral striatal response to social reward. These data suggest that risk status differences in ventral striatal response to social acceptance may be accounted for by lower affiliation behavior in those at high risk. The researchers found no differences in youth self-reports of behavior. 

Findings from this project suggest that attenuated response to social reward, assessed through neurobiology and behavior, may be mechanistically linked to the etiology and pathophysiology of depression. Future studies that target social interest and engagement may be a new direction in preventing the onset of depressive disorders in youth.

Contributors:
Erika E. Forbes, PhD and Catherine Osterritter, BS (Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine)

Jennifer S. Silk, PhD (Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health)

Thomas Olino, PhD (Department of Psychology, Temple University)

This article appeared in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.  Click here to view the abstract.