Vulnerability to Depression in Youth: Advances From Affective Neuroscience

Autumn Kujawa, Katie L. Burkhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Vulnerability models of depression posit that individual differences in trait-like vulnerabilities emerge early in life and increase risk for the later development of depression. In this review, we summarize advances from affective neuroscience using neural measures to assess vulnerabilities in youth at high risk for depression due to parental history of depression or temperament style, as well as prospective designs evaluating the predictive validity of these vulnerabilities for symptoms and diagnoses of depression across development. Evidence from multiple levels of analysis indicates that healthy youth at high risk for depression exhibit abnormalities in components of the Research Domain Criteria positive valence systems, including blunted activation in the striatum during reward anticipation and feedback, and that some of these measures can be used to predict later symptoms. In addition, alterations in components of the Research Domain Criteria negative valence systems, including neural processing of sadness, loss, and threat, have been observed in risk for depression, though effects appear to be more task and method dependent. Within the social processes domain, preliminary evidence indicates that neural processing of social feedback, including heightened reactivity to exclusion and blunted response to social reward, may be related to depression vulnerability. These studies indicate that affective neuroscience can inform understanding of developmental pathways to depression and identify altered emotional processing among youth at high risk. We provide an integrated summary of replicated findings from this literature, along with recommendations for future directions and implications for early intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-37
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry


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