Christian A. Webb, Ph.D.

Fellow in Child & Adolescent Depression

Project Details


Diego A. Pizzagalli, Ph.D.
Erika E. Forbes, Ph.D.


McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School


Towards Reward-Related Biomarkers of Adolescent Depression Vulnerability


Towards Reward-Related Biomarkers of Adolescent Depression Vulnerability

Project Summary

The prevalence rate of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is relatively low in childhood, but surges during adolescence. By the age of 18, an estimated 15% of teens will have experienced at least one episode of MDD. A growing body of research implicates abnormalities in reward circuitry as playing a central role. However, it remains unclear whether these neural abnormalities precede and predict the initial onset of MDD, rather than being mere correlates or consequences of depressive symptoms. To fill this critical gap, this study seeks to predict the onset of depressive symptoms in adolescents based on assessments of reward functioning via neural, behavioral, and self-report analysis.

It is expected that blunted striatal and hyper-active mPFC responses to monetary rewards will predict reduced daily reports of positive affect and increased anhedonia. Neural (fMRI), behavioral (PRT) and self-report (EMA) markers of reward function will predict the onset of depressive symptoms during the follow-up phase of the study. Researchers will collect fMRI data from 40 adolescents – ages 12-14, at high-risk of developing MDD on the basis of elevated anhedonia – by probing reward circuitry function while the participant completes reward tasks and assessing anhedonia using a cell-phone-based EMA protocol. Results from this study are expected to significantly advance our understanding of the mechanisms implicated in the initial development of MDD, which, ultimately, may lead to early identification of and more effective treatments for this highly prevalent and debilitating disorder.

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