Neuroanatomical foundations of delayed reward discounting decision making

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Resolving tradeoffs between smaller immediate rewards and larger delayed rewards is ubiquitous in daily life and steep discounting of future rewards is associated with several psychiatric conditions. This form of decision-making is referred to as delayed reward discounting (DRD) and the features of brain structure associated with DRD are not well understood. The current study characterized the relationship between gray matter volume (GMV) and DRD in a sample of 1038 healthy adults (54.7% female) using cortical parcellation, subcortical segmentation, and voxelwise cortical surface-based group analyses. The results indicate that steeper DRD was significantly associated with lower total cortical GMV, but not subcortical GMV. In parcellation analyses, less GMV in 20 discrete cortical regions was associated with steeper DRD. Of these regions, only GMV in the middle temporal gyrus (MTG) and entorhinal cortex (EC) were uniquely associated with DRD. Voxelwise surface-based analyses corroborated these findings, again revealing significant associations between steeper DRD and less GMV in the MTG and EC. To inform the roles of MTG and EC in DRD, connectivity analysis of resting state data (N = 1003) using seed regions from the structural findings was conducted. This revealed that spontaneous activity in the MTG and EC was correlated with activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and inferior parietal lobule, regions associated with the default mode network, which involves prospection, self-reflective thinking and mental simulation. Furthermore, meta-analytic co-activation analysis using Neurosynth revealed a similar pattern across 11,406 task-fMRI studies. Collectively, these findings provide robust evidence that morphometric characteristics of the temporal lobe are associated with DRD preferences and suggest it may be because of their role in mental activities in common with default mode activity.

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