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BACKGROUND: Stress and depression have a reciprocal relationship, but the neural underpinnings of this reciprocity are unclear. We investigated neuroimaging phenotypes that facilitate the reciprocity between stress and depressive symptoms. METHODS: In total, 22 195 participants (52.0% females) from the population-based UK Biobank study completed two visits (initial visit: 2006-2010, age = 55.0 ± 7.5 [40-70] years; second visit: 2014-2019; age = 62.7 ± 7.5 [44-80] years). Structural equation modeling was used to examine the longitudinal relationship between self-report stressful life events (SLEs) and depressive symptoms. Cross-sectional data were used to examine the overlap between neuroimaging correlates of SLEs and depressive symptoms on the second visit among 138 multimodal imaging phenotypes. RESULTS: Longitudinal data were consistent with significant bidirectional causal relationship between SLEs and depressive symptoms. In cross-sectional analyses, SLEs were significantly associated with lower bilateral nucleus accumbal volume and lower fractional anisotropy of the forceps major. Depressive symptoms were significantly associated with extensive white matter hyperintensities, thinner cortex, lower subcortical volume, and white matter microstructural deficits, mainly in corticostriatal-limbic structures. Lower bilateral nucleus accumbal volume were the only imaging phenotypes with overlapping effects of depressive symptoms and SLEs (B = -0.032 to -0.023, p = 0.006-0.034). Depressive symptoms and SLEs significantly partially mediated the effects of each other on left and right nucleus accumbens volume (proportion of effects mediated = 12.7-14.3%, p < 0.001-p = 0.008). For the left nucleus accumbens, post-hoc seed-based analysis showed lower resting-state functional connectivity with the left orbitofrontal cortex (cluster size = 83 voxels, p = 5.4 × 10-5) in participants with high v. no SLEs. CONCLUSIONS: The nucleus accumbens may play a key role in the reciprocity between stress and depressive symptoms.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Med

Publication Date



1 - 12


UK Biobank, depressive symptoms, multimodal neuroimaging, nucleus accumbens, reward processing, stress, ventral striatum