The human connectome project for disordered emotional states: Protocol and rationale for a research domain criteria study of brain connectivity in young adult anxiety and depression

Neuroimage. 2020 Jul 1;214:116715. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116715. Epub 2020 Mar 5.


Through the Human Connectome Project (HCP) our understanding of the functional connectome of the healthy brain has been dramatically accelerated. Given the pressing public health need, we must increase our understanding of how connectome dysfunctions give rise to disordered mental states. Mental disorders arising from high levels of negative emotion or from the loss of positive emotional experience affect over 400 million people globally. Such states of disordered emotion cut across multiple diagnostic categories of mood and anxiety disorders and are compounded by accompanying disruptions in cognitive function. Not surprisingly, these forms of psychopathology are the leading cause of disability worldwide. The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative spearheaded by NIMH offers a framework for characterizing the relations among connectome dysfunctions, anchored in neural circuits and phenotypic profiles of behavior and self-reported symptoms. Here, we report on our Connectomes Related to Human Disease protocol for integrating an RDoC framework with HCP protocols to characterize connectome dysfunctions in disordered emotional states, and present quality control data from a representative sample of participants. We focus on three RDoC domains and constructs most relevant to depression and anxiety: 1) loss and acute threat within the Negative Valence System (NVS) domain; 2) reward valuation and responsiveness within the Positive Valence System (PVS) domain; and 3) working memory and cognitive control within the Cognitive System (CS) domain. For 29 healthy controls, we present preliminary imaging data: functional magnetic resonance imaging collected in the resting state and in tasks matching our constructs of interest ("Emotion", "Gambling" and "Continuous Performance" tasks), as well as diffusion-weighted imaging. All functional scans demonstrated good signal-to-noise ratio. Established neural networks were robustly identified in the resting state condition by independent component analysis. Processing of negative emotional faces significantly activated the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal and occipital cortices, fusiform gyrus and amygdalae. Reward elicited a response in the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal, parietal and occipital cortices, and in the striatum. Working memory was associated with activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal, parietal, motor, temporal and insular cortices, in the striatum and cerebellum. Diffusion tractography showed consistent profiles of fractional anisotropy along known white matter tracts. We also show that results are comparable to those in a matched sample from the HCP Healthy Young Adult data release. These preliminary data provide the foundation for acquisition of 250 subjects who are experiencing disordered emotional states. When complete, these data will be used to develop a neurobiological model that maps connectome dysfunctions to specific behaviors and symptoms.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Functional brain imaging; Human connectome project.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult