Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Subgenual anterior cingulate responses to peer rejection: A marker of adolescents' risk for depression

Carrie L. Mastena1 c1, Naomi I. Eisenbergera1, Larissa A. Borofskya2, Kristin McNealya3, Jennifer H. Pfeifera4 and Mirella Daprettoa1

a1 University of California, Los Angeles

a2 University of Southern California

a3 Duke University

a4 University of Oregon


Extensive developmental research has linked peer rejection during adolescence with a host of psychopathological outcomes, including depression. Moreover, recent neuroimaging research has suggested that increased activity in the subgenual region of the anterior cingulate cortex (subACC), which has been consistently linked with depression, is related to heightened sensitivity to peer rejection among adolescents. The goal of the current study was to directly test the hypothesis that adolescents' subACC responses are predictive of their risk for future depression, by examining the relationship between subACC activity during peer rejection and increases in depressive symptoms during the following year. During a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, 20 13-year-olds were ostensibly excluded by peers during an online social interaction. Participants' depressive symptoms were assessed via parental reports at the time of the scan and 1 year later. Region of interest and whole-brain analyses indicated that greater subACC activity during exclusion was associated with increases in parent-reported depressive symptoms during the following year. These findings suggest that subACC responsivity to social exclusion may serve as a neural marker of adolescents' risk for future depression and have implications for understanding the relationship between sensitivity to peer rejection and the increased risk of depression that occurs during adolescence.

(Online publication January 24 2011)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Carrie L. Masten, c/o Naomi I. Eisenberger, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563; E-mail:


This work was supported by the Santa Fe Institute Consortium. Support was also provided by an Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Award and a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (to C.M.). The authors are grateful for the generous support from the Brain Mapping Medical Research Organization, Brain Mapping Support Foundation, Pierson–Lovelace Foundation, Ahmanson Foundation, Tamkin Foundation, Jennifer Jones–Simon Foundation, Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation, Robson Family, William M. and Linda R. Dietel Philanthropic Fund at the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, and Northstar Fund. This project was also partially supported by grants (RR12169, RR13642 and RR00865) from the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center for Research Resources or the National Institutes of Health. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors thank Elliot Berkman for statistical assistance.