Probing emotion in the developing brain: functional neuroimaging in the assessment of the neural substrates of emotion in normal and disordered children and adolescents
Virtually all developmental neuropsychiatric disorders involve some dysfunction or dysregulation of emotion. Moreover, many psychiatric disorders with adult onset have early subclinical manifestations in children. This essay selectively reviews the literature on the neuroimaging of affect and disorders of affect in children. Some critical definitional and conceptual issues are first addressed, including the distinctions between the perception and production of emotion and between emotional states and traits. Developmental changes in morphometric measures of brain structure are then discussed and the implications of such findings for studies of functional brain activity are considered. Data on functional neuroimaging and childhood depression are then reviewed. While the extant data in this area are meager, they are consistent with studies in adults that have observed decreased left-sided anterolateral prefrontal cortex activation in depression. Studies in children on the recognition of emotion and affective intent in faces using functional magnetic resonance imaging are then reviewed. These findings indicate that the amygdala plays an important role in such affective face processing in children, similar to the patterns of activation observed in adults. Moreover, one study has reported abnormalities in amygdala activation during a task requiring the judgment of affective intent from the eye region of the face in subjects with autism. Some of the methodological complexities of developmental research in this area are discussed, and directions for future research are suggested.