Normative Development of Ventral Striatal Resting State Connectivity in Humans

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Incentives play a crucial role in guiding behavior throughout our lives, but perhaps no more so than during the early years of life. The ventral striatum is a critical piece of an incentive-based learning circuit, sharing robust anatomical connections with subcortical (e.g., amygdala, hippocampus) and cortical structures (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), insula) that collectively support incentive valuation and learning. Resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) is a powerful method that provides insight into the development of the functional architecture of these connections involved in incentive-based learning. We employed a seed-based correlation approach to investigate ventral striatal rsFC in a cross-sectional sample of typically developing individuals between the ages of 4.5 and 23-years old (n = 66). Ventral striatal rsFC with the mPFC showed regionally specific linear age-related changes in connectivity that were associated with age-related increases in circulating testosterone levels. Further, ventral striatal connectivity with the posterior hippocampus and posterior insula demonstrated quadratic age-related changes characterized by negative connectivity in adolescence. Finally, across this age range, the ventral striatum demonstrated positive coupling with the amygdala beginning during childhood and remaining consistently positive across age. In sum, our findings suggest that normative ventral striatal rsFC development is dynamic and characterized by early establishment of connectivity with medial prefrontal and limbic structures supporting incentive-based learning, as well as substantial functional reorganization with later developing regions during transitions into and out of adolescence.

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