Major depressive disorder is a burdensome disease that is prevalent in the general population. Despite much research on risk for and etiology of depression, processes related to the development of depression are only beginning to be understood. Family history of depressive disorders and developmental status are well established risk factors for depressive disorders. Offspring of depressed parents are at increased risk for depression and depression rates increase in adolescence. However, these broad risks have been considered individually and as distal influences on the emergence of depression. More proximal processes require further investigation. Attenuated reward responsivity (RR) has been linked to the etiology of depression in studies using subjective report, objective behavioral, and neural functioning measures. Of particular importance, RR is related to risk factors for depression and is influenced by developmental processes. Specifically, never depressed offspring of depressed parents demonstrate attenuated responses to reward. Studies also find that reward responsiveness normatively increases across adolescence. Questions emerge concerning how family history of depression may influence the development of RR in adolescence and how these may influence the development of youth depressive symptoms. These longitudinal processes have not been comprehensively examined previously. This proposal will apply a true developmental psychopathology perspective in examining risk for depression. We hypothesize that offspring of depressed parents will demonstrate attenuated increases in reward function during adolescence and failure to demonstrate normative increases in reward function will be associated with emergent depressive symptoms. We will combine high-risk offspring and longitudinal developmental methods to address our aims. We will recruit 9-10 (n = 140) and 12-13 (n = 140) year old youth. Youth participants will be assessed on RR using self- and parent-reports, behavioral performance, and neuroimaging methods. Our expectation is that offspring of depressed parents will demonstrate attenuated increases in reward responsiveness and this developmental change will be associated with the emergence of depressive symptoms. This is the first research program to examine the interplay between family risk status for depression and development using a longitudinal design and including rigorous behavioral and neuroimaging components. The results of this work will have powerful implications for understanding the timing and nature of the development of RR in the transition to and through adolescence. Identification of periods of malleability will permit identification of when in development intervention efforts may target RR to prevent the development of depressive disorders. Our work will also identify specific mechanisms of attenuated reward responsivity development that will implicate prevention efforts, including individual cognitive and affective and/or parenting interventions and when these interventions may be most successful. This will lead to the reduction of the public health burden of depressive disorders.
Much available data find that the incidence of depression increases in adolescence, yet our understanding of specific processes related to developing disorder are only beginning to be understood. The present project focuses on the role of change in reward responsivity across adolescence as a mechanism that is associated with risk for depression. The results of this work will be important in identifying a specific target for prevention and inform when in youth development reward responsivity may be most malleable and be influenced by prevention efforts. Potential interventions will include cognitive and affective strategies to accentuate responsiveness to rewards on youth directly, or parent socialization practices to influence youth responsiveness to reward.
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