Functional connectivity during frustration: a preliminary study of predictive modeling of irritability in youth

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021 Jun;46(7):1300-1306. doi: 10.1038/s41386-020-00954-8. Epub 2021 Jan 21.


Irritability cuts across many pediatric disorders and is a common presenting complaint in child psychiatry; however, its neural mechanisms remain unclear. One core pathophysiological deficit of irritability is aberrant responses to frustrative nonreward. Here, we conducted a preliminary fMRI study to examine the ability of functional connectivity during frustrative nonreward to predict irritability in a transdiagnostic sample. This study included 69 youths (mean age = 14.55 years) with varying levels of irritability across diagnostic groups: disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (n = 20), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (n = 14), anxiety disorder (n = 12), and controls (n = 23). During fMRI, participants completed a frustrating cognitive flexibility task. Frustration was evoked by manipulating task difficulty such that, on trials requiring cognitive flexibility, "frustration" blocks had a 50% error rate and some rigged feedback, while "nonfrustration" blocks had a 10% error rate. Frustration and nonfrustration blocks were randomly interspersed. Child and parent reports of the affective reactivity index were used as dimensional measures of irritability. Connectome-based predictive modeling, a machine learning approach, with tenfold cross-validation was conducted to identify networks predicting irritability. Connectivity during frustration (but not nonfrustration) blocks predicted child-reported irritability (ρ = 0.24, root mean square error = 2.02, p = 0.03, permutation testing, 1000 iterations, one-tailed). Results were adjusted for age, sex, medications, motion, ADHD, and anxiety symptoms. The predictive networks of irritability were primarily within motor-sensory networks; among motor-sensory, subcortical, and salience networks; and between these networks and frontoparietal and medial frontal networks. This study provides preliminary evidence that individual differences in irritability may be associated with functional connectivity during frustration, a phenotype-relevant state.

Trial registration: NCT00006177 NCT00018057 NCT00025935.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / diagnostic imaging
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders
  • Child
  • Frustration*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Mood
  • Mood Disorders / diagnostic imaging

Associated data