Cortical activation deficits during facial emotion processing in youth at high risk for the development of substance use disorders

Leslie A. Hulvershorn, Peter Finn, Tom A. Hummer, Ellen Leibenluft, Brandon Ball, Victoria Gichina, Amit Anand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Background: Recent longitudinal studies demonstrate that addiction risk may be influenced by a cognitive, affective and behavioral phenotype that emerges during childhood. Relatively little research has focused on the affective or emotional risk components of this high-risk phenotype, including the relevant neurobiology. Methods: Non-substance abusing youth (N= 19; mean age = 12.2) with externalizing psychopathology and paternal history of a substance use disorder and demographically matched healthy comparisons (N= 18; mean age = 11.9) were tested on a facial emotion matching task during functional MRI. This task involved matching faces by emotions (angry, anxious) or matching shape orientation. Results: High-risk youth exhibited increased medial prefrontal, precuneus and occipital cortex activation compared to the healthy comparison group during the face matching condition, relative to the control shape condition. The occipital activation correlated positively with parent-rated emotion regulation impairments in the high-risk group. Conclusions: These findings suggest a preexisting abnormality in cortical activation in response to facial emotion matching in youth at high risk for the development of problem drug or alcohol use. These cortical deficits may underlie impaired affective processing and regulation, which in turn may contribute to escalating drug use in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-237
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2013



  • Addiction risk
  • ADHD
  • Child and adolescent
  • Externalizing
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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