The following is a summary of “Striatal Activity to Reward Anticipation as a Moderator of the Association Between Early Behavioral Inhibition and Changes in Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms From Adolescence to Adulthood,” published in the October, 2022 issue of Psychiatry by Alva Tang, et al.

A higher incidence of anxiety and depression has been found to be connected with the behavioral inhibition (BI) temperament of early infancy, which is characterized by restrained and apprehensive actions. There were a number of neurocognitive correlates underpinning sensitivity to the development of anxiety in inhibited children, but less was known about the neurocognitive correlates underlying vulnerability to the development of depression. For a study, researchers sought to investigate whether early BI modified the relationship between early BI and the changes in depression and anxiety from adolescence to adulthood. Blocked striatal activity to reward anticipation was a well-documented neurocognitive susceptibility characteristic of depression.

Between 1989 and 1993, investigators in the US recruited study participants at the age of 4 months. 2018 was included for follow-up evaluations (age 26 years). From March 2022 through September 2021, data were examined. BI was assessed using an observation paradigm (ages 14 and 24 months) in its early stages. In adolescents, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to track neural activity in response to expected rewards during a task with a delay in financial incentive (between ages 15-18 years; 83 individuals had usable data). Across adolescence to young adulthood (ages 15 and 26 years; n = 108) were used to collect self-reported data on anxiety and depression symptoms. The moderating effect of striatal activity to reward anticipation in the connection between early BI and changes in anxiety and depressive symptoms and takes into consideration the interdependence between anxiety and depression. Statistics testing was restricted to areas of the striatum using a region of interest technique (i.e., nucleus accumbens, caudate head, caudate body, putamen).

Out of 165 participants, 84 (50.1%) were female, and 162 (98%) were White. Anxiety and depression symptoms significantly increased between the ages of 15 and 26. Individual differences in the number of changes were also found. The primary analyses revealed that early BI was associated with increased depressed symptoms (β = −0.32; b = −4.23; 95% CI, −7.70 to −0.76; P = .02) and more depressive symptoms at age 26 (β = −0.47; b = −5.09; 95% CI, −7.74 to −2.43; P < .001). However, no latent increases in anxiety over age or anxiety at age 26 were accompanied by any statistically significant interactions. The relationships were not moderated by activity in the putamen or caudate.

A developmental risk factor linking an inhibited childhood temperament and depression throughout the transition to adulthood may be the ventral striatum’s blunted reward sensitivity. Future research should look at the effectiveness of preventative programs that aim to reduce later depression risks in anxious young people by addressing maladaptive reward processing and motivational deficiencies.