Attentional avoidance of fearful facial expressions following early life stress is associated with impaired social functioning.
Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines
2016; 57 (10): 1174-1182
Early life stress is associated with poorer social functioning. Attentional biases in response to threat-related cues, linked to both early experience and psychopathology, may explain this association. To date, however, no study has examined attentional biases to fearful facial expressions as a function of early life stress or examined these biases as a potential mediator of the relation between early life stress and social problems.In a sample of 154 children (ages 9-13 years) we examined the associations among interpersonal early life stressors (i.e., birth through age 6 years), attentional biases to emotional facial expressions using a dot-probe task, and social functioning on the Child Behavior Checklist.High levels of early life stress were associated with both greater levels of social problems and an attentional bias away from fearful facial expressions, even after accounting for stressors occurring in later childhood. No biases were found for happy or sad facial expressions as a function of early life stress. Finally, attentional biases to fearful faces mediated the association between early life stress and social problems.Attentional avoidance of fearful facial expressions, evidenced by a bias away from these stimuli, may be a developmental response to early adversity and link the experience of early life stress to poorer social functioning.
View details for DOI 10.1111/jcpp.12607
View details for PubMedID 27457566
Neural Aspects of Inhibition Following Emotional Primes in Depressed Adolescents.
Journal of clinical child and adolescent psychology
2016; 45 (1): 21-30
Adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) have been found to be characterized by selective attention to negative material and by impairments in their ability to disengage from, or inhibit the processing of, negative stimuli. Altered functioning in the frontal executive control network has been posited to underlie these deficits in cognitive functioning. We know little, however, about the neural underpinnings of inhibitory difficulties in depressed adolescents. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging in 18 adolescents diagnosed with MDD and 15 age- and gender-matched healthy controls (CTLs) while they performed a modified affective Go/No-Go task that was designed to measure inhibitory control in the presence of an emotional distractor. Participants were presented with either a happy or a sad face, followed by a go or a no-go target to which they either made or inhibited a motor response. A group (MDD, CTL) by valence (happy, sad) by condition (go, no-go) analysis of variance indicated that MDD adolescents showed attenuated BOLD response in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and in the occipital cortex bilaterally, to no-go targets that followed a sad, but not a happy, face. Adolescents diagnosed with MDD showed anomalous recruitment of prefrontal control regions during inhibition trials, suggesting depression-associated disruption in neural underpinnings of the inhibition of emotional distractors. Given that the DLPFC is associated with the maintenance of goal-relevant information, it is likely that sad faces differentially capture attention in adolescents with MDD and interfere with task demands requiring inhibition.
View details for DOI 10.1080/15374416.2014.982281
View details for PubMedID 25635920
Influence of menarche on the relation between diurnal cortisol production and ventral striatum activity during reward anticipation.
Social cognitive and affective neuroscience
2015; 10 (9): 1244-1250
Adolescence is characterized by an increase in risk-taking and reward-seeking behaviors. In other populations, increased risk taking has been associated with tighter coupling between cortisol production and ventral striatum (VS) activation during reward anticipation; this relation has not yet been examined, however, as a function of adolescent development. This study examined the influence of pubertal development on the association between diurnal cortisol production and VS activity during reward anticipation. Pre- and post-menarcheal girls collected diurnal cortisol and completed an functional magnetic resonance imaging-based monetary incentive delay task, from which we extracted estimates of VS activity during the anticipation of reward, anticipation of loss and anticipation of non-incentive neutral trials. Post-menarcheal girls showed greater coupling between the cortisol awakening response and VS activation during anticipation of reward and loss than did their pre-menarcheal counterparts. Post-menarcheal girls did not differ from pre-menarcheal girls in their cortisol-VS coupling during anticipation of neutral trials, suggesting that puberty-related changes in cortisol-VS coupling are specific to affective stimuli. Interestingly, behavioral responses during the task indicate that post-menarcheal girls are faster to engage with affective stimuli than are pre-menarcheal girls. Thus, post-menarcheal girls exhibit neurobiological and behavioral patterns that have been associated with risk taking and that may underlie the dramatic increase in risk-taking behavior documented during adolescence.
View details for DOI 10.1093/scan/nsv016
View details for PubMedID 25678549
HPA-axis reactivity interacts with stage of pubertal development to predict the onset of depression
2015; 55: 94-101
Both elevated and blunted levels of cortisol secretion during childhood and adolescence have been linked to the subsequent onset of major depressive disorder (MDD). These mixed findings may be due to developmental changes in HPA-axis functioning, which have not been previously assessed in the context of risk. In the present study, therefore, we examined whether pubertal development moderated the influence of cortisol secretion on the subsequent development of MDD. Eighty-nine never-disordered girls ages 9-15 years, many of whom were at high risk for depression by virtue of having a maternal history of the disorder, completed a laboratory stress task. To index cortisol reactivity, salivary cortisol samples were collected at baseline and 15min following the onset of the stressor. Girls' levels of pubertal development were measured using Tanner staging. All participants were followed through age 18 in order to assess the subsequent development of MDD. Pubertal stage moderated the effects of cortisol stress reactivity on the development of MDD. Specifically, the onset of MDD was predicted by cortisol hyporeactivity in girls who were earlier in pubertal development (Tanner stage≤2), but by cortisol hyperreactivity in girls who were later in pubertal development (Tanner stage≥3.5).These findings demonstrate that girls' cortisol stress reactivity predicts the subsequent onset of MDD, and further, that the nature of this effect depends on the girls' level of pubertal development. Results are discussed in the context of clarifying previous findings, and directions for future research are offered.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.02.004
View details for Web of Science ID 000353090100009
Telomere length and cortisol reactivity in children of depressed mothers.
2015; 20 (5): 615-620
A growing body of research demonstrates that individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) are characterized by shortened telomere length, which has been posited to underlie the association between depression and increased instances of medical illness. The temporal nature of the relation between MDD and shortened telomere length, however, is not clear. Importantly, both MDD and telomere length have been associated independently with high levels of stress, implicating dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and anomalous levels of cortisol secretion in this relation. Despite these associations, no study has assessed telomere length or its relation with HPA-axis activity in individuals at risk for depression, before the onset of disorder. In the present study, we assessed cortisol levels in response to a laboratory stressor and telomere length in 97 healthy young daughters of mothers either with recurrent episodes of depression (i.e., daughters at familial risk for depression) or with no history of psychopathology. We found that daughters of depressed mothers had shorter telomeres than did daughters of never-depressed mothers and, further, that shorter telomeres were associated with greater cortisol reactivity to stress. This study is the first to demonstrate that children at familial risk of developing MDD are characterized by accelerated biological aging, operationalized as shortened telomere length, before they had experienced an onset of depression; this may predispose them to develop not only MDD but also other age-related medical illnesses. It is critical, therefore, that we attempt to identify and distinguish genetic and environmental mechanisms that contribute to telomere shortening.
View details for DOI 10.1038/mp.2014.119
View details for PubMedID 25266121
Overreactive Brain Responses to Sensory Stimuli in Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorders
JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY
2013; 52 (11): 1158-1172
Sensory over-responsivity (SOR), defined as a negative response to or avoidance of sensory stimuli, is both highly prevalent and extremely impairing in youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), yet little is known about the neurological bases of SOR. This study aimed to examine the functional neural correlates of SOR by comparing brain responses to sensory stimuli in youth with and without ASD.A total of 25 high-functioning youth with ASD and 25 age- and IQ-equivalent typically developing (TD) youth were presented with mildly aversive auditory and visual stimuli during a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan. Parents provided ratings of children's SOR and anxiety symptom severity.Compared to TD participants, ASD participants displayed greater activation in primary sensory cortical areas as well as amygdala, hippocampus, and orbital-frontal cortex. In both groups, the level of activity in these areas was positively correlated with level of SOR severity as rated by parents, over and above behavioral ratings of anxiety.This study demonstrates that youth with ASD show neural hyper-responsivity to sensory stimuli, and that behavioral symptoms of SOR may be related to both heightened responsivity in primary sensory regions as well as areas related to emotion processing and regulation.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.08.004
View details for Web of Science ID 000326480800007
View details for PubMedID 24157390
Associations Among Pubertal Development, Empathic Ability, and Neural Responses While Witnessing Peer Rejection in Adolescence
2013; 84 (4): 1338-1354
Links among concurrent and longitudinal changes in pubertal development and empathic ability from ages 10 to 13 and neural responses while witnessing peer rejection at age 13 were examined in 16 participants. More advanced pubertal development at age 13, and greater longitudinal increases in pubertal development, related to increased activity in regions underlying cognitive aspects of empathy. Likewise, at age 13 greater perspective taking related to activity in cognitive empathy-related regions; however, affective components of empathy (empathic concern and personal distress) were associated with activity in both cognitive and affective pain-related regions. Longitudinal increases in empathic ability related to cognitive and affective empathy-related circuitry. Findings provide preliminary evidence that physical and cognitive-emotional development relate to adolescents' neural responses when witnessing peer rejection.
View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.12056
View details for Web of Science ID 000321700600017
View details for PubMedID 23379360
Neural and Behavioral Responses During Self-Evaluative Processes Differ in Youth With and Without Autism
JOURNAL OF AUTISM AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS
2013; 43 (2): 272-285
This fMRI study investigated neural responses while making appraisals of self and other, across the social and academic domains, in children and adolescents with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Compared to neurotypical youth, those with ASD exhibited hypoactivation of ventromedial prefrontal cortex during self-appraisals. Responses in middle cingulate cortex (MCC) and anterior insula (AI) also distinguished between groups. Stronger activity in MCC and AI during self-appraisals was associated with better social functioning in the ASD group. Although self-appraisals were significantly more positive in the neurotypical group, positivity was unrelated to brain activity in these regions. Together, these results suggest that multiple brain regions support making self-appraisals in neurotypical development, and function atypically in youth with ASD.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s10803-012-1563-3
View details for Web of Science ID 000313803600003
View details for PubMedID 22760337
COMT genotype affects prefrontal white matter pathways in children and adolescents
2010; 53 (3): 926-934
Diffusion tensor imaging is widely used to evaluate the development of white matter. Information about how alterations in major neurotransmitter systems, such as the dopamine (DA) system, influence this development in healthy children, however, is lacking. Catechol-O-metyltransferase (COMT) is the major enzyme responsible for DA degradation in prefrontal brain structures, for which there is a corresponding genetic polymorphism (val158met) that confers either a more or less efficient version of this enzyme. The result of this common genetic variation is that children may have more or less available synaptic DA in prefrontal brain regions. In the present study we examined the relation between diffusion properties of frontal white matter structures and the COMT val158met polymorphism in 40 children ages 9-15. We found that the val allele was associated with significantly elevated fractional anisotropy values and reduced axial and radial diffusivities. These results indicate that the development of white matter in healthy children is related to COMT genotype and that alterations in white matter may be related to the differential availability of prefrontal DA. This investigation paves the way for further studies of how common functional variants in the genome might influence the development of brain white matter.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.033
View details for Web of Science ID 000282039300015
View details for PubMedID 20083203