Goal-striving tendencies moderate the relationship between reward-related brain function and peripheral inflammation

Iris Ka Yi Chat, Robin Nusslock, Daniel P. Moriarity, Corinne P. Bart, Naoise Mac Giollabhui, Katherine S.F. Damme, Ann L. Carroll, Gregory E. Miller, Lauren B. Alloy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Inflammation is associated with both lower and higher activity in brain regions that process rewarding stimuli. How can both low and high sensitivity to rewards be associated with higher inflammation? We propose that one potential mechanism underlying these apparently conflicting findings pertains to how people pursue goals in their environment. This prediction is based on evidence that both an inability to disengage from unattainable goals and low interest in and pursuit of important life goals are associated with poor health outcomes, including inflammation. Accordingly, this study examined the relationship between reward-related brain function and peripheral inflammation among individuals with different levels of ambitious goal-striving tendencies. Eighty-three participants completed an ambitious goal-striving tendency measure, an fMRI Monetary Incentive Delay task assessing orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) activation during reward anticipation and outcome, and a venous blood draw to assess the inflammatory biomarkers interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and C-reactive protein, from which we computed an inflammation composite score. We observed a reward anticipation by goal-striving interaction on inflammation, such that high OFC and NAc activation to reward anticipation (but not outcome) were associated with more inflammation, among high goal-striving individuals. By contrast, low NAc activation during reward anticipation (but not outcome) was associated with more inflammation, among low goal-striving individuals. The current study provides further evidence that both blunted and elevated reward function can be associated with inflammation. It also highlights the role that goal-striving tendencies may play in moderating the relationship between neural reward anticipation and inflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-70
Number of pages11
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Cytokines
  • Goal-striving
  • Inflammation
  • Neuroimmune
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Reward anticipation
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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