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Military training is a chronic stressful period that often induces stress-related psychopathology. Stress vulnerability and resilience depend on personality trait anxiety, attentional threat bias and prefrontal–limbic dysfunction. However, how these neurobehavioral elements interact with regard to the development of symptoms following stress remains unclear.
Fifty-five healthy combat soldiers undergoing intensive military training completed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) testing while performing the dot-probe task (DPT) composed of angry (threat) and neutral faces. Participants were then stratified according to their bias tendency to avoidance (n = 25) or vigilance (n = 30) groups, categorized as high or low trait anxiety and assessed for post-stress symptom severity.
Avoidance compared to vigilance tendency was associated with fewer post-trauma symptoms and increased hippocampal response to threat among high anxious but not low anxious individuals. Importantly, mediation analysis revealed that only among high anxious individuals did hippocampal activity lead to lower levels of symptoms through avoidance bias tendency. However, in the whole group, avoidance bias was modulated by the interplay between the hippocampus and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC).
Our results provide a neurobehavioral model to explain the resilience to post-trauma symptoms following chronic exposure. The model points to the importance of considering threat bias tendency in addition to personality traits when investigating the brain response and symptoms of trauma. Such a multi-parametric approach that accounts for individual behavioral sensitivities may also improve brain-driven treatments of anxiety, possibly by targeting the interplay between the hippocampus and the dACC.
Individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) are characterized by maladaptive responses to both positive and negative outcomes, which have been linked to localized abnormal activations in cortical and striatal brain regions. However, the exact neural circuitry implicated in such abnormalities remains largely unexplored.
In this study 26 unmedicated adults with MDD and 29 matched healthy controls (HCs) completed a monetary incentive delay task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analyses probed group differences in connectivity separately in response to positive and negative outcomes (i.e. monetary gains and penalties).
Relative to HCs, MDD subjects displayed decreased connectivity between the caudate and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) in response to monetary gains, yet increased connectivity between the caudate and a different, more rostral, dACC subregion in response to monetary penalties. Moreover, exploratory analyses of 14 MDD patients who completed a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial after the baseline fMRI scans indicated that a more normative pattern of cortico-striatal connectivity pre-treatment was associated with greater improvement in symptoms 12 weeks later.
These results identify the caudate as a region with dissociable incentive-dependent dACC connectivity abnormalities in MDD, and provide initial evidence that cortico-striatal circuitry may play a role in MDD treatment response. Given the role of cortico-striatal circuitry in encoding action–outcome contingencies, such dysregulated connectivity may relate to the prominent disruptions in goal-directed behavior that characterize MDD.
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