Functional neuroimaging implicates hyperactivity of amygdala-orbitofrontal circuitry as a common neurobiological mechanism underlying the development of anxiety. Less is known about anxiety-related structural differences in this network. In this study, a sample of healthy adults with no history of anxiety disorders completed a 3T MRI scan and self-report mood inventories. Post-processing quantitative MRI image analysis included segmentation and volume estimation of subcortical structures, which were regressed on anxiety inventory scores, with depression scores used to establish discriminant validity. We then used a quantitative vertex-based post-processing method to correlate (1) anxiety scores and (2) left amygdala volumes with cortical thickness across the whole cortical mantle. Left amygdala volumes predicted anxiety, with decreased amygdala volume associated with higher anxiety on both state and trait anxiety measures. A negative correlation between left amygdala volume and cortical thickness overlapped with a positive correlation between anxiety and cortical thickness in left lateral orbitofrontal cortex. These results suggest a structural anxiety network that corresponds with a large body of evidence from functional neuroimaging. Such findings raise the possibility that structural abnormalities may result in a greater vulnerability to anxiety or conversely that elevated anxiety symptoms may result in focal structural changes.
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