Psychobiological Functioning Of Girls At Risk For Depression

The research that we have reviewed thus far indicates that, with few exceptions, depressed adults are characterized by negative biases in attention and memory functioning; by dysregulated HPA axis functioning, as reflected by elevated levels of cortisol secretion; and by abnormalities in both the structure and function of the hippocampus, ACC, and amygdala. There is also a smaller (and less consistent) literature indicating that depressed children may share a subset of these same characteristics. Given that these indices of emotion dys-

regulation and dysfunction appear to characterize children and adults while they are depressed, an important question concerns the role that these difficulties and deficits may play in the onset of this disorder. Unfortunately, as we described above, there is little research addressing this question. To begin to fill this gap, we have initiated a study examining the psychobiological functioning of a group of participants at elevated risk for the onset of depression. If dysfunction in the processing of emotional information, dysregulation of the HPA axis in response to stress, or abnormalities in patterns of neural activation contribute to the onset of a depressive episode, we would expect these characteristics to be observable in individuals who have not experienced an episode of depression, but who are at increased risk for the development of this disorder.

To test this formulation, we have begun a study in which we are examining biases in the processing of emotional material, abnormalities in HPA axis functioning, and dysfunctional patterns of neural activation in response to mood and valenced stimuli in young girls of mothers with recurrent depression. As we have noted in detail earlier in this chapter, offspring of depressed parents are at elevated risk for developing depression themselves. And given the higher prevalence of MDD among women than among men, daughters of depressed parents are at particularly high risk for the development of depression.

Participants in this ongoing study are 11- to 14-year-old daughters and their biological mothers. All of the daughters are being interviewed with the Washington University Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (K-SADS; Geller et al., 2001); their mothers complete the K-SADS with reference to their daughters. Regardless of the diagnostic status of the mothers, all daughters in this study must have never had a diagnosable Axis I disorder. Mothers are interviewed with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM (SCID-I; First, Spitzer, Gibbon, & Williams, 1996), to establish whether they meet diagnostic criteria for having had two discrete episodes of MDD within their daughters' lifetime ("recurrent depressed" mothers) or for never having had an Axis I disorder ("never-disordered" mothers). At the time of testing, recurrent depressed mothers must not be experiencing an episode. Thus no mother or daughter meets criteria for a current diagnosis of MDD at the time of her first participation in the study.

We are collecting data from both mothers and daughters that assess psychobiological aspects of depression, emotion regulation, and stress reactivity. Mothers and daughters participate in emotion information-processing tasks with a negative-mood-inducing component; converse with each other about a stressful topic, during (and following) which salivary cortisol is collected; undergo a stressful interview, during (and following) which salivary cortisol is collected (daughters only); and, if they are able, participate in a functional MRI (fMRI) scanning session in which neural aspects of emotion regulation are assessed. Below we outline briefly the assessments we conduct in these areas and the initial results of these assessments.

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