This study is groundbreaking for its integration of several areas of research to answer a pressing question about mental health: do inflammatory processes lead to anhedonia and depression in young people? The areas incorporated into the study include inflammation and depression; the neuroscience of emotion and reward function; and the early development and course of depression. We will recruit a sample of 50 young people age 13-19 who have a parent or sibling with depression but have not developed depression themselves. In this high-risk sample, we will measure circulating levels of cytokines and growth factors; brain function in response to reward; anhedonia (through behavior, brain function, and experience); and depression. We will conduct a follow-up assessment of anhedonia and depression 6 months after the original visit. Analyses will focus on the association between inflammation and brain response to reward and inflammation and initial severity and change in depressive symptoms. Our measurement of anhedonia will allow us to test, in an exploratory way, whether this symptom occurs as an intermediate step between inflammation and depression. Funding Source: Brain and Behavior Research Foundation

This study investigates the development of depression in 232 girls recruited at ages 5-8 from the Pittsburgh community as part of the Pittsburgh Girls’ Study. Participants have been part of a longitudinal study of risk for mental health problems and conduct problems, and we are now assessing depression, stressful life events, and brain structure and function annually from age 15-19. The girls in this study are now in the sensitive developmental period for the onset of depression—and the emergence of sex differences in depression.  We are examining how their neural responses to rewarding and emotional stimuli contribute, in combination with their developmental histories and their experience of stress, to the development of depression. Funding Source: NIH R01 MH093605

This study examined patterns of drug and alcohol use in young men who have been part of a longitudinal study of mental health and addiction since age 18 months. That study, the Pitt Mother-Child Project, has collected detailed information on characteristics such as social context, family environment, impulsivity, genetic polymorphisms, and behavioral and emotional problems. Now, with participants entering adulthood, we are conducting functional and structural brain imaging at 2 time points to investigate how brain development, combined with these other characteristics, contributes to the development of substance use. Funding Source: NIH RO1 DA026222

Adolescents are notorious for doing risky things, especially when they’re with friends. How can we capture the brain function that signals which adolescents will engage in reward-seeking behavior or develop reward-related problems? This study is developing a new functional neuroimaging paradigm to capture adolescents’ brain responses to a potent reward: positive affect expressed by a close friend during a fun conversation. Healthy adolescents from the Pittsburgh community come into the lab twice. First, they have an interaction with a close friend about a fun experience they’ve had. Then, they come back for a brain scan in which they see videos of their friend from the interaction. This technique might be better for capturing reward responding than traditional techniques that use standardized stimuli such as posed faces or money. We also measure their real-life behavior and mood in their usual environments using experience sampling. We’re trying to discover how brain response to a friend’s positive emotion can tell us who develops reward-related problems such as sensation-seeking, HIV-risk behavior, and mood problem.