Evidence for Depressogenic Spontaneous Thoughts and Altered Resting-State Connectivity in Adolescents With a Maltreatment History

Ferdinand Hoffmann, Essi Viding, Vanessa B Puetz, Mattia I Gerin, Arjun Sethi, Georgia Rankin, Eamon J McCrory

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OBJECTIVE: Childhood maltreatment has been associated with major depressive disorder (MDD). Atypical self-generated thoughts (SGT), lacking in positive and privileging negative content-a feature of ruminative thinking-might represent one vulnerability factor for developing depression. Rumination in MDD has been linked to alterations in resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) of the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) to the default mode network and the fronto-parietal network (FPN). This study aimed to investigate online SGT content and its variability, as well as sgACC RSFC, as potential risk markers for depression in adolescents who experienced maltreatment.

METHOD: Adolescents 12 to 16 years old (29 with maltreatment history [MT] and 39 with no maltreatment history [NMT]) performed an established mind-wandering task. Participants made nondemanding number discriminations during which intermittent questions probed their SGTs that were classified as off-task, positive, negative, self-related, other-related, past-oriented, or future-oriented. Resting-state data were acquired separately for 22 of 29 MT and 27 39 NMT adolescents, and seed-based functional connectivity analyses of the sgACC were performed.

RESULTS: MT, relative to the NMT adolescents, generated significantly fewer positively valenced thoughts, and exhibited more extreme ratings for positively valenced thoughts. MT adolescents also showed significantly reduced RSFC between the sgACC and the FPN. Group differences in depressive symptoms between the MT and NMT adolescents were partly accounted by differences in sgACC-FPN RSFC.

CONCLUSION: Adolescents who experienced maltreatment show a reduction in positively valenced spontaneous thoughts and reduced sgACC-FPN RSFC at the neural level. These may contribute to a ruminative thinking style, representing risk factors for developing depression later in life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-695.e4
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number9
Early online date20 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Adolescent
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child Abuse/psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major/physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli/physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways/physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests

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