Sex-Dependent Associations among Maternal Depressive Symptoms, Child Reward Network, and Behaviors in Early Childhood

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Mar 14;30(3):901-912. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz135.


Maternal depression is associated with disrupted neurodevelopment in offspring. This study examined relationships among postnatal maternal depressive symptoms, the functional reward network and behavioral problems in 4.5-year-old boys (57) and girls (65). We employed canonical correlation analysis to evaluate whether the resting-state functional connectivity within a reward network, identified through an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis of fMRI studies, was associated with postnatal maternal depressive symptoms and child behaviors. The functional reward network consisted of three subnetworks, that is, the mesolimbic, mesocortical, and amygdala-hippocampus reward subnetworks. Postnatal maternal depressive symptoms were associated with the functional connectivity of the mesocortical subnetwork with the mesolimbic and amygdala-hippocampus complex subnetworks in girls and with the functional connectivity within the mesocortical subnetwork in boys. The functional connectivity of the amygdala-hippocampus subnetwork with the mesocortical and mesolimbic subnetworks was associated with both internalizing and externalizing problems in girls, while in boys, the functional connectivity of the mesocortical subnetwork with the amygdala-hippocampus complex and the mesolimbic subnetworks was associated with the internalizing and externalizing problems, respectively. Our findings suggest that the functional reward network might be a promising neural phenotype for effects of maternal depression and potential intervention to nurture child behavioral development.

Keywords: externalizing behavior; functional reward network; internalizing behavior; maternal depression; resting-state fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Reward*
  • Sex Characteristics*