Developmental change in amygdala reactivity during adolescence: Effects of family history of depression and stressful life events

Johnna R. Swartz, Douglas E. Williamson, Ahmad R. Hariri

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    94 Scopus citations


    Objective: Although heightened amygdala reactivity is observed in patients with major depression, two critical gaps in our knowledge remain. First, it is unclear whether heightened amygdala reactivity is a premorbid vulnerability or a consequence of the disorder. Second, it is unknown how and when this neural phenotype develops. The authors sought to address these gaps by evaluating developmental change in threat-related amygdala reactivity in adolescents at highor low risk for depression based on family history, before onset of disorder. Method: At baseline and again 2 years later, adolescents (initially 11-15 years of age) participated in a functional MRI paradigm that elicited threat-related amygdala reactivity. After quality control, data were available for 232 adolescents at wave 1 and 197 adolescents at wave 2; longitudinal data meeting quality control at both waves were available for 157 of these participants. Change in amygdala reactivity was assessed as a function of family history of depression and severity of stressful life events. Results: Threat-related amygdala reactivity increased with age in participants with a positive family history regardless of the severity of life stress reported, and it increased in adolescents with a negative family history who reported relatively severe life stress. These changes in amygdala reactivity with age occurred in the absence of clinical disorder or increases in depressive symptoms. Conclusions: These results suggest that heightened amygdala reactivity emerges during adolescence, prior to the development of depression, as a function of familial risk or, in the absence of familial risk, stressful life events.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)276-283
    Number of pages8
    JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Psychiatry and Mental health


    Dive into the research topics of 'Developmental change in amygdala reactivity during adolescence: Effects of family history of depression and stressful life events'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this