Diminished reward responsiveness is associated with lower reward network GluCEST: an ultra-high field glutamate imaging study

Valerie J. Sydnor, Bart Larsen, Christian Kohler, Andrew J.D. Crow, Sage L. Rush, Monica E. Calkins, Ruben C. Gur, Raquel E. Gur, Kosha Ruparel, Joseph W. Kable, Jami F. Young, Sanjeev Chawla, Mark A. Elliott, Russell T. Shinohara, Ravi Prakash Reddy Nanga, Ravinder Reddy, Daniel H. Wolf, Theodore D. Satterthwaite, David R. Roalf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Low reward responsiveness (RR) is associated with poor psychological well-being, psychiatric disorder risk, and psychotropic treatment resistance. Functional MRI studies have reported decreased activity within the brain’s reward network in individuals with RR deficits, however the neurochemistry underlying network hypofunction in those with low RR remains unclear. This study employed ultra-high field glutamate chemical exchange saturation transfer (GluCEST) imaging to investigate the hypothesis that glutamatergic deficits within the reward network contribute to low RR. GluCEST images were acquired at 7.0 T from 45 participants (ages 15–29, 30 females) including 15 healthy individuals, 11 with depression, and 19 with psychosis spectrum symptoms. The GluCEST contrast, a measure sensitive to local glutamate concentration, was quantified in a meta-analytically defined reward network comprised of cortical, subcortical, and brainstem regions. Associations between brain GluCEST contrast and Behavioral Activation System Scale RR scores were assessed using multiple linear regressions. Analyses revealed that reward network GluCEST contrast was positively and selectively associated with RR, but not other clinical features. Follow-up investigations identified that this association was driven by the subcortical reward network and network areas that encode the salience of valenced stimuli. We observed no association between RR and the GluCEST contrast within non-reward cortex. This study thus provides new evidence that reward network glutamate levels contribute to individual differences in RR. Decreased reward network excitatory neurotransmission or metabolism may be mechanisms driving reward network hypofunction and RR deficits. These findings provide a framework for understanding the efficacy of glutamate-modulating psychotropics such as ketamine for treating anhedonia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2137-2147
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

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© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited part of Springer Nature.


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