In the research domain framework (RDoC), dysfunctional reward expectation has been proposed to be a cross-diagnostic domain in psychiatry, which may contribute to symptoms common to various neuropsychiatric conditions, such as anhedonia or apathy/avolition. We used a modified version of the Monetary Incentive Delay (MID) paradigm to obtain functional MRI images from 22 patients with schizophrenia, 24 with depression and 21 controls. Anhedonia and other symptoms of depression, and overall positive and negative symptomatology were also measured. We hypothesized that the two clinical groups would have a reduced activity in the ventral striatum when anticipating reward (compared to anticipation of a neutral outcome) and that striatal activation would correlate with clinical measures of motivational problems and anhedonia. Results were consistent with the first hypothesis: two clusters in both the left and right ventral striatum were found to differ between the groups in reward anticipation. Post-hoc analysis showed that this was due to higher activation in the controls compared to the schizophrenia and the depression groups in the right ventral striatum, with activation differences between depression and controls also seen in the left ventral striatum. No differences were found between the two patient groups, and there were no areas of abnormal cortical activation in either group that survived correction for multiple comparisons. Reduced ventral striatal activity was related to greater anhedonia and overall depressive symptoms in the schizophrenia group, but not in the participants with depression. Findings are discussed in relation to previous literature but overall are supporting evidence of reward system dysfunction across the neuropsychiatric continuum, even if the specific clinical relevance is still not fully understood. We also discuss how the RDoC approach may help to solve some of the replication problems in psychiatric fMRI research
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