Symptom Dimensions of Executive Control, Threat-, and Reward-Related Neural Activity


Anxiety and depression are highly prevalent, recurrent, and major public health problems. Decades of research has uncovered associations between symptom dimensions of anxiety and depression and abnormal neural activation across executive control-, threat-, and reward-related networks. Recent studies have developed a hierarchical symptom structure of anxiety and depression termed the trilevel model that reconceptualizes anxious and depressive disorders as sets of empirically derived phenotypic symptom clusters. This model includes a broad factor (General Distress) comprised of symptoms shared between anxiety and depression disorders and two intermediate factors (Fear and Anhedonia) comprised of anxious and depressive symptom subsets (Prenoveau et al., 2010). However, the neural correlates of trilevel symptom dimensions remain poorly understood. The objective of the current study is to examine associations between shared (i.e., General Distress) and distinct (i.e., Fear and Anhedonia) symptom dimensions of anxiety and depression and abnormal event-related potentials (ERPs) across executive control, threat, and reward processing domains. 61 participants completed trilevel symptom questionnaires and an executive control, threat reactivity, and reward processing task while electroencephalogram (EEG) activity was recorded. First, all three symptom dimensions were hypothesized to be associated with abnormal electrocortical activity during a stop-signal executive control task. Second, Fear and Anhedonia were hypothesized to be associated with abnormal threat-related electrocortical activity during an emotional reactivity task. Third, only Anhedonia was predicted to be associated with abnormal reward-related electrocortical activity during a monetary incentive delay task. Results from the executive control task revealed that General Distress was uniquely associated with increased error-detection (i.e., Error-Related Negativity: ERN) and Fear was uniquely associated with increased error awareness (i.e., Error-Positivity: Pe). By contrast, Anhedonia was unassociated with ERP amplitudes during executive control. However, contrary to predictions, none of the trilevel symptom factors were associated with threat-related electrocortical activity during the emotional reactivity task. Finally, results revealed General Distress was associated with broadly decreased reward-related neural activity across three ERP components elicited by reward cues (i.e., Cue-N2, Cue-P3, and Cue-Late Positive Potential: Cue-LPP) and attenuated affective processing of reward feedback (i.e., Feedback-LPP: FB-LPP) while Anhedonia and Fear were unassociated with reward-related ERPs. These results reveal specific neural profiles uniquely associated with shared and distinct symptom dimensions of anxiety and depression. Results have important implications for the detection of risk, diagnosis, and treatment of anxiety and depression disorders.

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