Hum Brain Mapp. 2014 Oct;35(10):5153-65. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22540.
Processing of reward is the basis of adaptive behavior of the human being. Neural correlates of reward processing seem to be influenced by developmental changes from adolescence to late adulthood. The aim of this study is to uncover these neural correlates during a slot machine gambling task across the lifespan. Therefore, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate 102 volunteers in three different age groups: 34 adolescents, 34 younger adults, and 34 older adults. We focused on the core reward areas ventral striatum (VS) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), the valence processing associated areas, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula, as well as information integration associated areas, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and inferior parietal lobule (IPL). Results showed that VS and VMPFC were characterized by a hyperactivation in adolescents compared with younger adults. Furthermore, the ACC and insula were characterized by a U-shape pattern (hypoactivation in younger adults compared with adolescents and older adults), whereas the DLPFC and IPL were characterized by a J-shaped form (hyperactivation in older adults compared with younger groups). Furthermore, a functional connectivity analysis revealed an elevated negative functional coupling between the inhibition-related area rIFG and VS in younger adults compared with adolescents. Results indicate that lifespan-related changes during reward anticipation are characterized by different trajectories in different reward network modules and support the hypothesis of an imbalance in maturation of striatal and prefrontal cortex in adolescents. Furthermore, these results suggest compensatory age-specific effects in fronto-parietal regions.