Relationships between neural activation during a reward task and peripheral cytokine levels in youth with diverse psychiatric symptoms

Kailyn A. Bradley, Emily R. Stern, Carmen M. Alonso, Hui Xie, Seunghee Kim-Schulze, Vilma Gabbay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: Inflammation has been hypothesized to contribute to reward dysfunction across psychiatric conditions, but little is known about this relationship in youth. Therefore, the present study investigated the associations between general and specific markers of inflammation and neural activation during reward processing, including anticipation and attainment, in youth with diverse psychiatric symptoms. Methods: Forty-six psychotropic medication-free youth with diverse psychiatric symptoms underwent a blood draw to measure 41 cytokines, as well as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging. The Reward Flanker Task examined neural activation during reward anticipation and attainment. Relationships between inflammation and neural activation were assessed using data reduction techniques across the whole-brain, as well as in specific reward regions of interest (basal ganglia, anterior and mid-cingulate cortex [ACC/MCC]). Results: Whole-brain principal component analyses showed that factor 3 (12 cytokines: FGF-2, Flt3-L, fractalkine, GM-CSF, IFN-α2, IFN-γ, IL-3, IL-4, IL-7, IL-17A, MDC, and VEGF) was negatively correlated with precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex activity during anticipation. Factor 2 (11 cytokines: eotaxin, IL-1α, IL-1Rα, IL-2, IL-5, IL-9, IL-12p40, IL-13, IL-15, MCP-3, and TNF-β) was negatively correlated with angular gyrus activity during attainment. ROI analyses additionally showed that multiple cytokines were related to activity in the basal ganglia (EGF, FGF-2, Flt-3L, IL-2, IL-13, IL-15, IL-1Rα, MCP-3) and ACC/MCC (Flt-3L) during attainment. C-reactive protein (CRP) was not associated with neural activation. Conclusions: Investigation of specific markers of immune function showed associations between inflammatory processes and activation of posterior default mode network, prefrontal cortex, and basal ganglia regions during multiple phases of reward processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)374-383
Number of pages10
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Peripheral inflammation
  • Reward anticipation
  • Reward attainment
  • Reward processing
  • Youth


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