Childhood Adversity Is Associated with Left Basal Ganglia Dysfunction During Reward Anticipation in Adulthood

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
Biological psychiatry (Impact Factor: 10.26). 05/2009; 66(3):206-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.02.019
Source: PubMed


Childhood adversity increases the risk of psychopathology, but the neurobiological mechanisms underlying this vulnerability are not well-understood. In animal models, early adversity is associated with dysfunction in basal ganglia regions involved in reward processing, but this relationship has not been established in humans.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to examine basal ganglia responses to: 1) cues signaling possible monetary rewards and losses; and 2) delivery of monetary gains and penalties, in 13 young adults who experienced maltreatment before age 14 years and 31 nonmaltreated control subjects.
Relative to control subjects, individuals exposed to childhood adversity reported elevated symptoms of anhedonia and depression, rated reward cues less positively, and displayed a weaker response to reward cues in the left globus pallidus. There were no group differences in right hemisphere basal ganglia response to reward cues or in basal ganglia response to loss cues, no-incentive cues, gains, or penalties.
Results indicate that childhood adversity in humans is associated with blunted subjective responses to reward-predicting cues as well as dysfunction in left basal ganglia regions implicated in reward-related learning and motivation. This dysfunction might serve as a diathesis that contributes to the multiple negative outcomes and psychopathologies associated with childhood adversity. The findings suggest that interventions that target motivation and goal-directed action might be useful for reducing the negative consequences of childhood adversity.

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