Using fMRI, researchers uncover the neural underpinnings, which could aid development of potential treatments — ScienceDaily

Researchers have discovered brain connectivity and brain activity changes during reward anticipation and rest in children with anhedonia. Anhedonia is a condition in which people lose interest in and pleasure in old hobbies and activities. Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIMH), conducted the study to shed light on brain function and help distinguish anhedonia from related psychopathology. The journal publishes the findings. JAMA Psychiatry.

Anhedonia can be a risk factor or a symptom for certain mental disorders. It is also predictive of illness severity, resistance and suicide risk. Although anhedonia has been studied by researchers, most of the research has focused on adults and not children. Importantly, previous studies often did not separate anhedonia from other related psychopathologies, such as low mood, anxiety, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“Understanding the neural mechanisms of Anhedonia that are distinguishable form other psychiatric concerns, is important for clinicians in developing on-target treatments,” said Narun pornpattananangkul Ph.D., lead study author and postdoctoral fellow in NIMH’s Division of Intramural Research Programs. “However, it can be difficult to disentangle shared characteristics from unique neural mechanism of anhedonia because it often co-occurs other psychiatric disorders.

Researchers from the NIMH Division of Intramural Research Programs analyzed fMRI data taken from more than 2,800 children between 9 and 10 years old as part of their Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study (ABCD). They wanted to know more about the neurological underpinnings of children’s anhedonia. Some of the children included in the sample were identified as having anhedonia, low mood, anxiety, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The fMRI data was collected while the children were asleep and while they completed tasks that assessed reward anticipation and working memory.

Analyzing brain connectivity at rest revealed significant differences between children with and without anhedonia. These differences were largely due to connectivity between the reward-related ventralstriatum and the arousal-related network. These findings suggest that children suffering from anhedonia may have a reduced ability to integrate reward and arousal than children who do not have anhedonia.

The brain activity of children with anhedonia was examined by researchers. They found hypoactivation in brain regions involved for integrating reward and arousal, but not during the working memory task. Children with ADHD, low mood, anxiety, and ADHD did not experience hypoactivation. Children with ADHD actually showed the opposite pattern: brain activation abnormalities during working memory tasks, but not the reward anticipation task.

Study suggests that children with anhedonia are more likely to experience differences in the way they integrate reward and arousal, and how their brain activates when anticipating rewards.

Dr. Pornpattanangkul stated that anhedonia-specific alterations were found in youth with anhedonia. This meant that they had differences in the way they integrated reward/arousal and showed decreased activity in reward anticipation contexts. “This finding may provide neural targets to treat anhedonia in youth.”

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Materials provided by NIH/National Institute of Mental Health. Note: Content may be edited to improve style and length.

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