Negative life events (NLE) contribute to anxiety and depression disorders, but their relationship with brain functioning in adolescence has rarely been studied. We hypothesized that neural response to social threat would relate to NLE in the frontal-limbic emotional regions. Participants (N = 685) were drawn from the Imagen database of 14-year-old community adolescents recruited in schools. They underwent functional MRI while viewing angry and neutral faces, as a probe to neural response to social threat. Lifetime NLEs were assessed using the 'distress', 'family' and 'accident' subscales from a life event dimensional questionnaire. Relationships between NLE subscale scores and neural response were investigated. Links of NLE subscales scores with anxiety or depression outcomes at the age of 16 years were also investigated. Lifetime 'distress' positively correlated with ventral-lateral orbitofrontal and temporal cortex activations during angry face processing. 'Distress' scores correlated with the probabilities of meeting criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder at the age of 16 years. Lifetime 'family' and 'accident' scores did not relate with neural response or follow-up conditions, however. Thus, different types of NLEs differentially predicted neural responses to threat during adolescence, and differentially predicted a de novo internalizing condition 2 years later. The deleterious effect of self-referential NLEs is suggested.
Keywords: adolescence; anxiety; depression; fMRI; negative life events; social threat.
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