Grant Shields to Speak on Assessing Neural Markers of Vulnerability to Depression in Adolescent Girls

Grant Shields
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Grant Shields

The UA Integrative Systems Neuroscience Seminar Series will welcome Grant Shields, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Science, to speak on "Assessing neural markers of vulnerability to depression in adolescent girls." The seminar will take place at noon CST on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Depression is a leading cause of disease burden in adolescents and young adults worldwide, and adolescent girls face a particularly high risk for developing depression. Most theoretical models of depression emphasize both genetic and environmental contributions to depression, and past research has found that targeted social rejection is a strong environmental predictor of the development of depression.

In this study, we examined fMRI activity and functional connectivity in response to negative social evaluation in a sample of 50 adolescent girls, 25 of which were of high risk for developing depression (due to their mother having depression; i.e., genetic risk), and 25 of which were of low risk. In these analyses, we focused on regions previously implicated in self-referential processing (e.g., the anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex [ACC]), emotion regulation (e.g., the ventromedial prefrontal cortex [VMPFC]), and negative emotion (e.g., the amygdala).

We found that when receiving negative social evaluation, relative to low-risk girls, high-risk girls showed greater anterior insula-VMPFC functional connectivity, greater ACC-VMPFC functional connectivity, less VMPFC-amygdala functional connectivity, and greater amygdala activity. This pattern of results entails that girls in the high-risk group exhibited greater signaling between regions implicated in self-referential regions and executive control when receiving negative social evaluation, which is consistent with a greater perceived rejection of self and subsequent recognized need to exert executive control over emotions in the high-risk group.

Additionally, the high-risk girls showed less signaling between a region implicated in executive control over emotions and the amygdala, which — coupled with the heightened amygdala activity seen in the high-risk girls — is consistent with a relatively worse ability to downregulate heightened neural threat signals induced by social stress. Although reverse inference, these results could therefore be taken to suggest that two pathways — increased sensitivity to social rejection and decreased ability to regulate negative emotion — may underlie differences between girls at high and low risk for depression after targeted social rejection.

Along with being an assistant professor at the U of A, Shields is the director of A SCAN Lab. He studies the effects of stress and related factors on cognition and health, as well as the neurobiological mechanisms that may underpin those effects.

The event is free and open to faculty, postdocs, grad students and undergrads! To join, go to Zoom log-in.


Darya Zabelina, assistant professor
Department of Psychological Science


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