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Early-life adversity (ELA) is a risk factor for internalizing psychopathology (IP). ELA is also linked to alterations in neural phenotypes of emotion processing and maladaptive emotion regulatory strategies, such as ruminative brooding, in adulthood. We therefore expected that ELA would predict cortical brain activation to emotional faces in transdiagnostic IP and in turn, mediate the extent of rumination amongst patients with IPs and ELA (IP + ELA).
One hundred and thirty-two individuals, including 102 treatment-seeking adults with heterogeneous IPs and 30 healthy controls (HCs) performed an Emotional Face-Matching Task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Whole-brain analyses compared HC (n = 30), IP (n = 52), and IP + ELA (n = 50) neural responses to emotional (angry, fearful, happy, and sad) faces v. shapes, controlling for depression and anxiety symptoms. Parameter estimates of activation were extracted for significant between-group differences and tested as a mediator of ruminative brooding in IP + ELA.
IP + ELA demonstrated increased activation in the superior frontal gyrus and anterior cingulate cortex (fear), superior parietal lobule, precuneus, posterior cingulate, and inferior temporal gyrus (fear only), and cuneus (fear and angry). These regions were preferentially correlated with ruminative brooding in IP + ELA, many of which mediated the link between IP + ELA and ruminative brooding.
Results provide evidence that ELA history amongst IP patients augments engagement of brain regions involved in emotion processing, above and beyond what is accounted for by current symptoms. Though longitudinal designs are needed, alterations in the neural correlates of maladaptive processing of socio-emotional information may be a common pathway by which ELA poses risk for psychopathology.
Reappraisal, an adaptive emotion regulation strategy, is associated with frontal engagement. In internalizing psychopathologies (IPs) such as anxiety and depression frontal activity is atypically reduced suggesting impaired regulation capacity. Yet, successful reappraisal is often demonstrated at the behavioral level. A data-driven approach was used to clarify brain and behavioral relationships in IPs.
During functional magnetic resonance imaging, anxious [general anxiety disorder (n = 43), social anxiety disorder (n = 72)] and depressed (n = 47) patients reappraised negative images to reduce negative affect (‘ReappNeg’) and viewed negative images (‘LookNeg’). After each trial, the affective state was reported. A cut-point (i.e. values <0 based on ΔReappNeg-LookNeg) demarcated successful reappraisers. Neural activity for ReappNeg-LookNeg, derived from 37 regions of interest, was submitted to Principal Component Analysis (PCA) to identify unique components of reappraisal-related brain response. PCA factors, symptom severity, and self-reported habitual reappraisal were submitted to discriminant function analysis and linear regression to examine whether these data predicted successful reappraisal (yes/no) and variance in reappraisal ability.
Most patients (63%) were successful reappraisers according to the behavioral criterion (values<0; ΔReappNeg-LookNeg). Discriminant function analysis was not significant for PCA factors, symptoms, or habitual reappraisal. For regression, more activation in a factor with high loadings for frontal regions predicted better reappraisal facility. Results were not significant for other variables.
At the individual level, more activation in a ‘frontal’ factor corresponded with better reappraisal facility. However, neither brain nor behavioral variables classified successful reappraisal (yes/no). Findings suggest individual differences in regions strongly implicated in reappraisal play a role in on-line reappraisal capability.
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