Perceived stress predicts altered reward and loss feedback processing in medial prefrontal cortex.

Date Published:



Stress is a significant risk factor for the development of psychopathology, particularly symptoms related to reward processing. Importantly, individuals display marked variation in how they perceive and cope with stressful events, and such differences are strongly linked to risk for developing psychiatric symptoms following stress exposure. However, many questions remain regarding the neural architecture that underlies inter-subject variability in perceptions of stressors. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a Monetary Incentive Delay (MID) paradigm, we examined the effects of self-reported perceived stress levels on neural activity during reward anticipation and feedback in a sample of healthy individuals. We found that subjects reporting more uncontrollable and overwhelming stressors displayed blunted neural responses in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) following feedback related to monetary gains as well monetary losses. This is consistent with preclinical models that implicate the mPFC as a key site of vulnerability to the noxious effects of uncontrollable stressors. Our data help translate these findings to humans, and elucidate some of the neural mechanisms that may underlie stress-linked risk for developing reward-related psychiatric symptoms.