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Trauma exposure is associated with development of depression and anxiety; yet, some individuals are resilient to these trauma-associated effects. Differentiating mechanisms underlying development of negative affect and resilience following trauma is critical for developing effective interventions. One pathway through which trauma could exert its effects on negative affect is reward-learning networks. In this study, we examined relationships among lifetime trauma, reward-learning network function, and emotional states in young adults.
One hundred eleven young adults self-reported trauma and emotional states and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging during a monetary reward task. Trauma-associated neural activation and functional connectivity were analyzed during reward prediction error (RPE). Relationships between trauma-associated neural functioning and affective and anxiety symptoms were examined.
Number of traumatic events was associated with greater ventral anterior cingulate cortex (vACC) activation, and lower vACC connectivity with the right insula, frontopolar, inferior parietal, and temporoparietal regions, during RPE. Lower trauma-associated vACC connectivity with frontoparietal regions implicated in regulatory and decision-making processes was associated with heightened affective and anxiety symptoms; lower vACC connectivity with insular regions implicated in interoception was associated with lower affective and anxiety symptoms.
In a young adult sample, two pathways linked the impact of trauma on reward-learning networks with higher v. lower negative affective and anxiety symptoms. The disconnection between vACC and regions implicated in decision-making and self-referential processes may reflect aberrant regulatory but appropriate self-focused mechanisms, respectively, conferring risk for v. resilience against negative affective and anxiety symptoms.
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