The presence of an anatomical connection between the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum, forming a so-called reward network, is well established across species. This connection has important implications for reward processing and is relevant to a number of neuropsychiatric disorders. Moreover, white matter (WM) is known to continue to mature across adolescence and into early adulthood, and developmental change in the reward network is an important component of models of decision making and risk taking. Despite the importance of this connection, the underlying WM has only recently been characterized in humans histologically, and not yet in-vivo using brain imaging. Here, we implemented diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in a large cross-sectional sample of 295 healthy individuals ages 8-68 to further characterize the WM of this connection and its development from childhood into adulthood. We demonstrate that the accumbofrontal tract, connecting the orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, can be identified using standard DTI sequences. Using Poisson modeling, we show that the accumbofrontal tract undergoes significant change across the lifespan, with males showing a higher and earlier peak compared to females. Moreover, the change occurs in a pattern consistent with developmental models of decision-making. These findings support the hypothesis that developmental differences in WM integrity may be a contributing factor to the observed risk taking that occurs in adolescence. The accumbofrontal tract is not yet included in standard WM atlases, but may be important for inclusion in studies investigating fronto-striatal networks, as well as in investigations of substance abuse and decision making.
Keywords: brain; decision making; frontal lobe; growth and development; neuroimaging; reward; white matter.
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.