Neural function underlying reward expectancy and attainment in adolescents with diverse psychiatric symptoms

Qi Liu, Benjamin A. Ely, Emily R. Stern, Junqian Xu, Joo won Kim, Danielle G. Pick, Carmen M. Alonso, Vilma Gabbay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reward dysfunction has been hypothesized to play a key role in the development of psychiatric conditions during adolescence. To help capture the complexity of reward function in youth, we used the Reward Flanker fMRI Task, which enabled us to examine neural activity during expectancy and attainment of both certain and uncertain rewards. Participants were 84 psychotropic-medication-free adolescents, including 67 with diverse psychiatric conditions and 17 healthy controls. Functional MRI used high-resolution acquisition and high-fidelity processing techniques modeled after the Human Connectome Project. Analyses examined neural activation during reward expectancy and attainment, and their associations with clinical measures of depression, anxiety, and anhedonia severity, with results controlled for family-wise errors using non-parametric permutation tests. As anticipated, reward expectancy activated regions within the fronto-striatal reward network, thalamus, occipital lobe, superior parietal lobule, temporoparietal junction, and cerebellum. Unexpectedly, however, reward attainment was marked by widespread deactivation in many of these same regions, which we further explored using cosine similarity analysis. Across all subjects, striatum and thalamus activation during reward expectancy negatively correlated with anxiety severity, while activation in numerous cortical and subcortical regions during reward attainment positively correlated with both anxiety and depression severity. These findings highlight the complexity and dynamic nature of neural reward processing in youth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103258
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Reward attainment
  • Reward expectancy
  • fMRI


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