Cumulative stress in childhood is associated with blunted reward-related brain activity in adulthood
SOCIAL COGNITIVE AND AFFECTIVE NEUROSCIENCE, Volume: 11,Issue: 3,Pages: 405-412, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsv124, Published: MAR 2016Abstract:
Early life stress (ELS) is strongly associated with negative outcomes in adulthood, including reduced motivation and increased negative mood. The mechanisms mediating these relations, however, are poorly understood. We examined the relation between exposure to ELS and reward-related brain activity, which is known to predict motivation and mood, at age 26, in a sample followed since kindergarten with annual assessments. Using functional neuroimaging, we assayed individual differences in the activity of the ventral striatum (VS) during the processing of monetary rewards associated with a simple card-guessing task, in a sample of 72 male participants. We examined associations between a cumulative measure of ELS exposure and VS activity in adulthood. We found that greater levels of cumulative stress during childhood and adolescence predicted lower reward-related VS activity in adulthood. Extending this general developmental pattern, we found that exposure to stress early in development (between kindergarten and grade 3) was significantly associated with variability in adult VS activity. Our results provide an important demonstration that cumulative life stress, especially during this childhood period, is associated with blunted reward-related VS activity in adulthood. These differences suggest neurobiological pathways through which a history of ELS may contribute to reduced motivation and increased negative mood.