Blunted ventral striatum development in adolescence reflects emotional neglect and predicts depressive symptoms

Jamie L. Hanson, Ahmad R. Hariri, Douglas E. Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

159 Scopus citations


Background Emotional neglect is associated with multiple negative outcomes, particularly increased risk for depression. Motivated by increasing evidence of reward-related ventral striatum (VS) dysfunction in depression, we investigated the role of developmental changes in VS activity on the emergence of depressive symptomatology as a function of emotional neglect. Methods We examined relationships between longitudinal neuroimaging of reward-related VS activity, assessments of mood, and measures of emotional neglect in 106 participants first scanned between ages 11 to 15 and then 2 years later. Results We found that greater levels of emotional neglect were associated with blunted development of reward-related VS activity between the first and second assessments (as indexed by lower residualized change scores). Additionally, we found that decreases in this reward-related VS activity were related to greater depressive symptomatology and partially mediated the association between emotional neglect and subsequent depressive symptomatology. Conclusions Our results provide an important demonstration that blunted development of reward-related VS activity as a function of emotional neglect predicts the emergence of depressive symptoms in adolescents. Further, our results are consistent with emerging evidence for the importance of reward-related VS dysfunction in the etiology and pathophysiology of depression. These results are a first step toward developing the ability to predict, prevent, and treat stress-related psychopathology through the targeting of specific neural phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)598-605
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Depression
  • Early life stress
  • Emotional neglect
  • Longitudinal
  • Neurodevelopment
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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