Early life stress and adolescent depression linked to impaired development of reward circuits

Nov 3, 2015

Source: Elsevier

Early life stress is a major risk factor for later episodes of depression. In fact, adults who are abused or neglected as children are almost twice as likely to experience depression.

Scientific research into this link has revealed that the increased risk following such childhood adversity is associated with sensitization of the brain circuits involved with processing threat and driving the stress response. More recently, research has begun to demonstrate that in parallel to this stress sensitization, there may also be diminished processing of reward in the brain and associated reductions in a person’s ability to experience positive emotions.

Researchers at Duke University and the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio looked specifically at this second phenomenon in a longitudinal neuroimaging study of adolescents, in order to better understand how early life stress contributes to depression.

They recruited 106 adolescents, between the ages of 11-15, who underwent an initial magnetic resonance imaging scan, along with measurements of mood and neglect. The study participants then had a second brain scan two years later.


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24 comments on “Early life stress and adolescent depression linked to impaired development of reward circuits

  • 1
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I think this pretty much demonstrates what we as a society have always suspected at an intuitive level. It’s more or less the explicit description of what is commonly referred to as emotional scarring. But the novelty lies in the conclusion that this can occur at a very early stage. The one at which we are, ironically enough, deemed most resilient. Worse yet, the damage appears to be irreversible.

    For so many people, there is simply no help available: psychotherapy is either ineffective, inaccessible or unaffordable. The neuroscientific approach to the study of mental disease is IMO our best chance of finding a genuine breakthrough and beating this terrible suffering. Problem is, this will come way too late for many if not most people dealing with these problems who are alive today.



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  • This study is one of several I have read today.
    Another dealt with the mortality rate of Americans in the 45 to 55 age range.
    Still another discusses the link between Cancer and processed meat.
    So, we as people still cannot raise our children or feed ourselves properly.

    Hmm.



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  • Or smoke and drink darn it!!!:-)

    If they can explain why I find it hard to enjoy things I know I should then more power to them alf. I went through war at age three. Maybe it explains it???



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  • I experienced unpleasant recollections whilst reading this piece; my wife and I always made every effort to avoid any favouritism with our twin daughters, but on occasion I lost my temper, and one day during the school run with them both, one said something which I will never forget; “you’re not very nice to me”.

    I was mortified, and the feeling of shame lingers on, even though we are all closer now than we’ve been at any time, and the daughter in question is living with me as she prepares to emigrate to Australia.

    Parenting is an art, the knack of which I’ve never fully grasped I’m afraid.

    However, I’m not surprised that there are lot of disturbed children, given the young age at which so many become parents; or rather, have children.

    In most ‘advanced’ cultures there are no longer any ordeals designed to test the individual’s capability to become a parent.



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  • alf1200
    Nov 4, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    So, we as people still cannot raise our children or feed ourselves properly.

    The commercialised Xmas seasonal fatty-food, sugar-rush, and chocolate binge, is about relaunch!



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  • Stafford Gordon
    Nov 5, 2015 at 4:50 am

    I experienced unpleasant recollections whilst reading this piece; my wife and I always made every effort to avoid any favouritism with our twin daughters,

    There are inevitable stresses in the best families, from children growing up and from sibling rivalries. – Especially where there are young twins making demands on parents!

    My eldest suffered a bit from competition from his very competitive and able, younger brother and sister twins.



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  • 10
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I was mortified, and the feeling of shame lingers on…

    When I was a teenager, I often had heated (but polite) arguments with my father in the car on the way back from work. Whenever the argument didn’t turn in his favor or he got tired of arguing (which was pretty much always), he responded by giving me the silent treatment… and I ended up arguing alone…. which made feel like an idiot or someone simply not worth bothering to argue with. And it infuriated me.

    Trust me Gordon, I would have much prefered that he got upset, shout at me and said what he really thought rather than just clam up and roll over the way he did. I also felt that acting that way was cowardly and caused me to lose respect for him…. which caused our disputes to get less and less civilized over time.

    So IMHO, there are far worse things you can do than get upset and raise your voice at your kid. I think today’s parents are generally better informed and more competent at parenting than the previous generation but I also think they often worry too much and have a tendency to overthink many situations of conflict and blame themselves for every unfortunate exchange.

    My take is that as long as you pro-actively keep lines of communication open between you and your children, these things can almost always be fixed. The worst thing to do or say is nothing.



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  • We have first world problems now. We are wired for flight or fight. Starvation, predatory attack, disease strike less often at school and home than they used to. Our homeostatic cognitions with their drifting medians rescale to the catastrophes of “defriending” and iPhoneX-1 shame.

    Two solutions present themselves.

    1) The sterling American project to re-arm the populace and bring that sense of excitement back. Make each night at home safe in bed the achievement it once was.

    2) Find people with real problems and help them.



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  • phil rimmer
    Nov 7, 2015 at 5:56 am

    The sterling American project to re-arm the populace

    It is a feature of the robber-rip-off communities, that for the medieval mindset, the bulk of community production should be diverted into building enclosures defending elite accumulations of wealth – castles, walled cities/enclaves, palaces etc, while the rest of resources and employment is diverted into creating impressive religious displays of wealth for the parallel religious elite.
    Any scraps left over can maintain a working population in basic squalor!



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  • Olgun,

    My husband is also a war baby (Algerian Independence) as I’ve mentioned here before, and yet he claims to have had a happy childhood. I grew up in a comfortable middle class home and never wanted for anything, yet I don’t call it a happy childhood. On the surface this seems counter-intuitive and we sat there puzzled by it. But would you say that your war baby status has affected you badly? How much influence do you give this? My husband says that the outside world was a stressful place during those years but when home he was surrounded by a super supportive extended family. Unfortunately, I feel it was the opposite in my case. What do you think about this?



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  • Well LaurieB,

    Being a war baby was one aspect (although I thought that remembered none of it) combined with moving to another country unable to speak the language or, this hurt me the most, not being able to understand the finer parts of their culture, uneducated parents with a victorian/muslim minded father (I don’t remember a single conversation with him until maybe twenty years ago) who I remember hitting my mother, a gambling drug/drink addicted elder brother who had a couple of fights with my father and had my mum constantly in tears, low level racism on a constant basis (Which might have been worse had I not been bigger than most in my schools, though they left me feeling short in later life) and (maybe because of all that) being extremely shy, something that is still a problem and a constant fight for me but which has its ups as in, I can stand back and observe and more likely do the right thin, and downs, as in, I am useless at small talk and come out looking awkward.

    My childhood was NOT very memorable but my teenage years (totally wasted from a career point of view) were wonderful. Escape from my dad, earning my own wage and having a great time in clubs. The war only came back to haunt me when an illness was only treatable with high doses of steroids. I felt great when on them, although anger was an issue, but then went into depression a few months after I stopped them. By this time I was married (Second time around) and had a son. Memories of the war came flooding back in dreams and panic attacks that only went away when I found out that is what they were, not just dreams but memories. Since then, I can honestly say that my level of enjoying life, for the sake of it, has diminished, not that it was ever as high as my friends seem to enjoy, silly things to me. That is not to say that I am not moved to tears by a good piece of music or excited by a brilliant thought provoking film but they are few and far between and it is a problem because my wife takes life as it comes and we clash on many things, what to watch on TV or those silly books she reads (LOL).

    I feel the imigration was a big part as I remember so wanting to fit in. Having a beach culture, we would go regularly to the cold coasts of England and I don’t remember once finding a new friend to play with. In fact, people would move away from us (I think I have mentioned this once before) because the spam or cucumber eating English would find our picnic of koftes, tomatoes, dolma, melon, olives and many other things, strange.

    My mum says I was always a sensitive child. What made me that way??????



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  • Olgun

    I can stand back and observe and more likely do the right thin, and downs, as in, I am useless at small talk and come out looking awkward.

    This is classic introvert presentation. I think you should read the book Quiet that I mention below. When I read that book I felt really validated for the very same thing you have said above. The extroverts all around us can really gang up and leave an introvert feeling like they’re pathological. It might be pop psychology but it had a very good result for me.

    Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Jan 29, 2013 by Susan Cain

    my teenage years (totally wasted from a career point of view) were wonderful. Escape from my dad, earning my own wage and having a great time in clubs.

    Yes, for me it was going off to college which was a fairy tale land of independence and excess and blundering mistakes and intellectual challenge. I’m very lucky to have this foundation in life.

    That is not to say that I am not moved to tears by a good piece of music or excited by a brilliant thought provoking film but they are few and far between

    Let’s not have these joys be so few and far between. My spouse also aggravates me with his non reading lifestyle. He buys books that he thinks he should read and gets five pages in before it lands dusty on the shelf. The latest was something by Albert Camus. ~eye roll~ Let it go Olgun, let it go…
    But I’m serious about seeking out joy in an active way. Now in my fifties I figure time isn’t on my side for this. The parties are over and now I find transcendent pure pleasure on the top of a mountain with snow swirling all around me and not another sapiens for miles around me. The quiet is therapeutic. We can’t sit and wait for these experiences to come to us and we can’t wait for others to join us sometimes. I strike out on my own when I need to. I have a strong fear of being on my deathbed and realizing that I wasted my time and now it’s too late to do the things that I love. We can’t have this at all Olgun. Not at all.

    My mum says I was always a sensitive child. What made me that way??????

    Good question. If you find the answer please let me know. 🙂 Since I think you have access to some third worlder old ladies, try asking them why this happens. I’ve had some very amusing conversations with the old hadjas of N.Africa on this subject. They claim that in the big families of 8 or 10 or more it’s easy to see that the kids all have different temperaments right from day one. So funny when one of the women stated that numbers 3, 7 and 9 were easy going but number 1 was a Djinn that nearly killed them, and numbers 2 and 4 were ambitious geniuses from the start and number 5 was antisocial and never talked until they were five years old and moves like a ghost through the chaos of the extended family daily life.

    That story is absolutely anecdotal for sure but I think it may be based on a speck of truth. Ask your oldest female relatives if you were always quiet right from the start and if so, why they think that was the case.



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  • Thanks for the book recommendation LaurieB, anything that helps is appreciated.

    My biggest regret is not having a proper education. Maybe why I was prepared to spend a fortune on educating my sons.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I have been promising myself a day in which I just jump on the tube and visit museums and galleries. I don’t mind being on my own at all. Essex doesn’t offer mountains but I do love the countryside.

    I will get a chance to ask a few older relatives near christmas time about the numbers thing as we have a wedding coming up and some will travel over to the UK.



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  • Olgun

    My biggest regret is not having a proper education

    I come from a long line of autodidacts and I know several who I’m not related to. These are some of the most interesting people I know. I’m all for “proper” educations, don’t get me wrong, but at our age, let’s forgive ourselves for not getting as far as we hoped and join those autodidacts in an effort to compensate for formal education that was cut off too soon. I made it my business years ago to access everything I could to remedy this same situation. Books of course, but did you know that Harvard U. has whole lecture series that are free and open to the public? I know you’re not in Boston, but does this exist near you? I also feel regret that I didn’t continue on in formal education as far as I should have but books and free lecture series are going a long way toward making me feel much better about it!

    Essex doesn’t offer mountains

    ha. Mountains and snow aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but I really think you should go back to that beach and bring a good book and a picnic of koftes, tomatoes, dolma, melon, olives and this time gobble it down with gusto and think to yourself- fuck the spam eaters of this world! I have koftes and dolma. That’s good living and that’s how lucky I am!

    Olgun. Please let me know when you have this victory accomplished. 🙂



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