Background: Subsyndromal emotional symptoms in adolescence may represent precursors for full-blown emotional disorders in early adulthood. Understanding the neurobiological mechanisms that drive this development is essential for prevention.
Aims: Self-referential processing and emotion regulation are remodelled substantively during adolescence, therefore this study examined integration of key neural networks involved in these processes.
Method: At baseline, clinical and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data were collected for 88 adolescent girls (mean age 15 years), and 71 of these girls underwent repeat clinical assessment after 2 years. These 71 girls were then partitioned into two groups depending on the presence (ES+) or absence (ES-) of emotional symptoms, and differences in dynamic functional network connectivity were determined and correlated with clinical variables.
Results: The two groups displayed a differential pattern of functional connectivity involving the left lateral prefrontal network (LPFN). Specifically, in the ES+ group this network displayed positive coupling with the right LPFN but negative coupling with the default mode network, and the inverse of this pattern was found in the ES- group. Furthermore, the coupling strengths between left and right LPFN at the irst time point predicted follow-up depression and state anxiety scores.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that in adolescent girls, emotional symptoms may emerge as a result of impaired integration between networks involved in self-referential information processing and approach-avoidance behaviours. These impairments can compromise the pursuit of important goals and have an impact on emotion processing and finally may lead to the development of emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression in adulthood.
Declaration of interest: None.
Keywords: Adolescence; Dynamic Functional Connectivity (dFNC); depression; emotional disorders; fMRI.