In adolescents, researchers found an association between brain activity in the ventral striatum (VS) region and depression, and that activity changes over time, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers used data from a European sample of teens from the IMAGEN Consortium study, which measured resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activity at age 14 (baseline), 16, and 18. In addition to analyzing the association between VS activity and depression, the researchers measured associations between anhedonia and low mood and VS and blood oxygen responses to reward tasks. The study used data from 304 patients.

The researchers found VS connectivity was positively associated with baseline depressive disorders for both the left VS (odds ratio [OR] 2.13; 95% CI, 1.09-4.15; P =.027) and right VS (OR 2.65; 95% CI, 1.40-5.05; P =.003). Depressive disorders at the 2-year and 4-year follow-up evaluations were not significantly associated with baseline VS connectivity.

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They also found the presence of anhedonia at baseline did not predict the symptom in later years. They did find stronger VS connectivity at baseline predicted the lower probability of low mood 4 years later.

The findings overall suggest that greater functional connectivity of the VS within the reward network may represent both a risk for later depression and a marker of depression. A previous study showed VS activity at age 12 that may suggest depression at that age, but similar activity was not present at age 9.

Of the limitations, the researchers included adolescents with subthreshold depression in the study. Future studies should examine VS activity in subthreshold and major depression separately. Anhedonia was identified via 1 self-reported assessment, which may have limited data at follow up. In addition, fMRI data was not collected at the follow-up studies.

Even so, “this work underscores the importance of the reward network in the development of depression in childhood through adolescence, suggesting an evolution of its role in the core symptoms of anhedonia and low mood across development,” the researchers concluded.

Disclosure: Some study authors declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures. 


Pan PM, Sato JR, Paillère Martinot ML, et al. Longitudinal trajectory of the link between ventral striatum and depression in adolescence. Am J Psychiatry. Published online May 18, 2022. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.20081180

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor