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Neurobiological sensitivity to unpredictable threat and familial risk for the internalizing and externalizing spectra in adolescents

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 August 2022

Clare C. Beatty*
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA
Rachel A. Ferry
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA
Nicholas R. Eaton
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA
Daniel N. Klein
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA
Brady D. Nelson
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA
*
Author for correspondence: Clare C. Beatty, E-mail: clare.beatty@stonybrook.edu

Abstract

Background

Adolescence is a key developmental period for the emergence of psychiatric disorders. However, there is still no consensus on the core mechanisms of dysfunction in youth. Neurobiological sensitivity to unpredictable threat has been associated with several psychiatric disorders in adults. The present study examined adolescent defensive motivation (startle reflex) and attention (event-related potentials) in anticipation of unpredictable threat in relation to both adolescent and maternal (i.e. familial risk) internalizing and externalizing spectra.

Methods

The sample included 395 15-year-old adolescents and their biological mothers. Adolescent startle potentiation and probe P300 suppression (indicating increased attention to threat) were measured in anticipation of predictable and unpredictable threat. Adolescent and maternal lifetime history of psychiatric disorders were assessed via semi-structured diagnostic interviews, and confirmatory factor analysis was used to model internalizing and externalizing spectra.

Results

The adolescent internalizing spectrum was positively associated with adolescent startle potentiation and probe P300 suppression to unpredictable threat. Conversely, the adolescent externalizing spectrum was negatively associated with adolescent P300 suppression to unpredictable threat. The maternal internalizing spectrum was positively associated with adolescent startle potentiation to unpredictable threat and P300 suppression to both predictable and unpredictable threat. The maternal externalizing spectrum was negatively associated with adolescent startle potentiation to unpredictable threat and P300 suppression to both predictable and unpredictable threat. Adolescent and maternal internalizing and externalizing spectra were independently related to adolescent startle potentiation and P300 suppression.

Conclusions

Adolescent neurobiological sensitivity to unpredictable threat is associated with both personal history and familial risk for the internalizing and externalizing spectra.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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