Emotion processing deficits are prominent in schizophrenia and exist prior to the onset of overt psychosis. However, developmental trajectories of neural circuitry subserving emotion regulation and the role that they may play in illness onset have not yet been examined in patients at risk for psychosis. The present study employed a cross-sectional analysis to examine age-related functional activation in amygdala and prefrontal cortex, as well as functional connectivity between these regions, in adolescents at clinical high risk (CHR) for psychosis relative to typically developing adolescents. Participants (n=34) performed an emotion processing fMRI task, including emotion labeling, emotion matching, and non-emotional control conditions. Regression analyses were used to predict activation in the amygdala and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) based on age, group, sex, and the interaction of age by group. CHR adolescents exhibited altered age-related variation in amygdala and vlPFC activation, relative to controls. Controls displayed decreased amygdala and increased vlPFC activation with age, while patients exhibited the opposite pattern (increased amygdala and decreased vlPFC activation), suggesting a failure of prefrontal cortex to regulate amygdala reactivity. Moreover, a psychophysiological interaction analysis revealed decreased amygdala-prefrontal functional connectivity among CHR adolescents, consistent with disrupted brain connectivity as a vulnerability factor in schizophrenia. These results suggest that the at-risk syndrome is marked by abnormal development and functional connectivity of neural systems subserving emotion regulation. Longitudinal data are needed to confirm aberrant developmental trajectories intra-individually and to examine whether these abnormalities are predictive of conversion to psychosis, and of later deficits in socioemotional functioning.
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