Neural responses to maternal praise and criticism: Relationship to depression and anxiety symptoms in high-risk adolescent girls

Robin L. Aupperle, Amanda S. Morris, Jennifer S. Silk, Michael M. Criss, Matt R. Judah, Sally G. Eagleton, Namik Kirlic, Jennifer Byrd-Craven, Raquel Phillips, Ruben P. Alvarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background The parent-child relationship may be an important factor in the development of adolescent depressive and anxious symptoms. In adults, depressive symptoms relate to increased amygdala and attenuated prefrontal activation to maternal criticism. The current pilot study examined how depressive and anxiety symptoms in a high-risk adolescent population relate to neural responses to maternal feedback. Given previous research relating oxytocin to maternal behavior, we conducted exploratory analyses using oxytocin receptor (OXTR) genotype. Methods Eighteen females (ages 12-16) listened to maternal praise, neutral, and critical statements during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants completed the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire and the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders. The OXTR single nucleotide polymorphism, rs53576, was genotyped. Linear mixed models were used to identify symptom or allele (GG, AA/AG) by condition (critical, neutral, praise) interaction effects on brain activation. Results Greater symptoms related to greater right amygdala activation for criticism and reduced activation to praise. For left amygdala, greater symptoms related to reduced activation to both conditions. Anxiety symptoms related to differences in superior medial PFC activation patterns. Parental OXTR AA/AG allele related to reduced activation to criticism and greater activation to praise within the right amygdala. Conclusions Results support a relationship between anxiety and depressive symptoms and prefrontal-amygdala responses to maternal feedback. The lateralization of amygdala findings suggests separate neural targets for interventions reducing reactivity to negative feedback or increasing salience of positive feedback. Exploratory analyses suggest that parents' OXTR genetic profile influences parent-child interactions and related adolescent brain responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)548-554
Number of pages7
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - 2016


  • Amygdala
  • Maternal behavior
  • Oxytocin
  • Parent-child relations
  • Prefrontal cortex


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