© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society.Identifying mechanisms through which individual differences in reward learning emerge offers an opportunity to understand both a fundamental form of adaptive responding as well as etiological pathways through which aberrant reward learning may contribute to maladaptive behaviors and psychopathology. One candidate mechanism through which individual differences in reward learning may emerge is variability in dopaminergic reinforcement signaling. A common functional polymorphism within the catechol-O-methyl transferase gene (COMT; rs4680, Val158Met) has been linked to reward learning, where homozygosity for the Met allele (linked to heightened prefrontal dopamine function and decreased dopamine synthesis in the midbrain) has been associated with relatively increased reward learning. Here, we used a probabilistic reward learning task to asses response bias, a behavioral form of reward learning, across three separate samples that were combined for analyses (age: 21.80 ± 3.95; n = 392; 268 female; European-American: n = 208). We replicate prior reports that COMT rs4680 Met allele homozygosity is associated with increased reward learning in European-American participants (β = 0.20, t = 2.75, P
© 2016 Macmillan Publishers LimitedIdentifying biological mechanisms through which the experience of adversity emerges as individual risk for mental illness is an important step toward developing strategies for personalized treatment and, ultimately, prevention. Preclinical studies have identified epigenetic modification of gene expression as one such mechanism. Recent clinical studies have suggested that epigenetic modification, particularly methylation of gene regulatory regions, also acts to shape human brain function associated with risk for mental illness. However, it is not yet clear whether differential gene methylation as a function of adversity contributes to the emergence of individual risk for mental illness. Using prospective longitudinal epigenetic, neuroimaging and behavioral data from 132 adolescents, we demonstrate that changes in gene methylation associated with lower socioeconomic status (SES) predict changes in risk-related brain function. Specifically, we find that lower SES during adolescence is associated with an increase in methylation of the proximal promoter of the serotonin transporter gene, which predicts greater increases in threat-related amygdala reactivity. We subsequently demonstrate that greater increases in amygdala reactivity moderate the association between a positive family history for depression and the later manifestation of depressive symptoms. These initial results suggest a specific biological mechanism through which adversity contributes to altered brain function, which in turn moderates the emergence of general liability as individual risk for mental illness. If replicated, this prospective pathway may represent a novel target biomarker for intervention and prevention among high-risk individuals.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 24 May 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.82.
Opioid dependence, a severe addictive disorder and major societal problem, has been demonstrated to be moderately heritable. We conducted a genome-wide association study in Comorbidity and Trauma Study data comparing opioid-dependent daily injectors (N=1167) with opioid misusers who never progressed to daily injection (N=161). The strongest associations, observed for CNIH3 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), were confirmed in two independent samples, the Yale-Penn genetic studies of opioid, cocaine and alcohol dependence and the Study of Addiction: Genetics and Environment, which both contain non-dependent opioid misusers and opioid-dependent individuals. Meta-analyses found five genome-wide significant CNIH3 SNPs. The A allele of rs10799590, the most highly associated SNP, was robustly protective (P=4.30E-9; odds ratio 0.64 (95% confidence interval 0.55-0.74)). Epigenetic annotation predicts that this SNP is functional in fetal brain. Neuroimaging data from the Duke Neurogenetics Study (N=312) provide evidence of this SNP's in vivo functionality; rs10799590 A allele carriers displayed significantly greater right amygdala habituation to threat-related facial expressions, a phenotype associated with resilience to psychopathology. Computational genetic analyses of physical dependence on morphine across 23 mouse strains yielded significant correlations for haplotypes in CNIH3 and functionally related genes. These convergent findings support CNIH3 involvement in the pathophysiology of opioid dependence, complementing prior studies implicating the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) glutamate system.
Individual differences in coping styles are associated with psychological vulnerability to stress. Recent animal research suggests that coping styles reflect trade-offs between proactive and reactive threat responses during active avoidance paradigms, with proactive responses associated with better stress tolerance. Based on these preclinical findings, we developed a novel instructed active avoidance paradigm to characterize patterns of proactive and reactive responses using behavioral, motoric, and autonomic measures in humans. Analyses revealed significant inter-individual variability not only in the magnitude of general emotional responsiveness but also the likelihood to specifically express proactive or reactive responses. In men but not women, individual differences in general emotional responsiveness were linked to increased trait anxiety while proactive coping style was linked to increased trait aggression. These patterns are consistent with preclinical findings and suggest that instructed active avoidance paradigms may be useful in assessing psychological vulnerability to stress using objective behavioral measures.
Although goal pursuit is related to both functioning of the brain's reward circuits and psychological factors, the literatures surrounding these concepts have often been separate. Here we use the psychological construct of regulatory focus to investigate individual differences in neural response to reward. Regulatory focus theory proposes two motivational orientations for personal goal pursuit: (1) promotion, associated with sensitivity to potential gain, and (2) prevention, associated with sensitivity to potential loss. The monetary incentive delay (MID) task was used to manipulate reward circuit function, along with instructional framing corresponding to promotion and prevention in a within-subject design. We observed that the more promotion oriented an individual was, the lower their ventral striatum response to gain cues. Follow-up analyses revealed that greater promotion orientation was associated with decreased ventral striatum response even to no-value cues, suggesting that promotion orientation may be associated with relatively hypoactive reward system function. The findings are also likely to represent an interaction between the cognitive and motivational characteristics of the promotion system with the task demands. Prevention orientation did not correlate with ventral striatum response to gain cues, supporting the discriminant validity of regulatory focus theory. The results highlight a dynamic association between individual differences in self-regulation and reward system function.