Neural networks involved in adolescent reward processing: An activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies

Neuroimage. 2015 Nov 15;122:427-39. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.07.083. Epub 2015 Aug 6.


Behavioral responses to, and the neural processing of, rewards change dramatically during adolescence and may contribute to observed increases in risk-taking during this developmental period. Functional MRI (fMRI) studies suggest differences between adolescents and adults in neural activation during reward processing, but findings are contradictory, and effects have been found in non-predicted directions. The current study uses an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) approach for quantitative meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies to: (1) confirm the network of brain regions involved in adolescents' reward processing, (2) identify regions involved in specific stages (anticipation, outcome) and valence (positive, negative) of reward processing, and (3) identify differences in activation likelihood between adolescent and adult reward-related brain activation. Results reveal a subcortical network of brain regions involved in adolescent reward processing similar to that found in adults with major hubs including the ventral and dorsal striatum, insula, and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Contrast analyses find that adolescents exhibit greater likelihood of activation in the insula while processing anticipation relative to outcome and greater likelihood of activation in the putamen and amygdala during outcome relative to anticipation. While processing positive compared to negative valence, adolescents show increased likelihood for activation in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and ventral striatum. Contrasting adolescent reward processing with the existing ALE of adult reward processing reveals increased likelihood for activation in limbic, frontolimbic, and striatal regions in adolescents compared with adults. Unlike adolescents, adults also activate executive control regions of the frontal and parietal lobes. These findings support hypothesized elevations in motivated activity during adolescence.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult