Early life stress (ELS) is a risk factor for anxiety, mood disorders and alterations in stress responses. Less is known about the long-term neurobiological impact of ELS. We used [(18)F]-fluorodeoxyglucose Positron Emission Tomography (FDG-PET) to assess neural responses to a moderate stress test in adult monkeys that experienced ELS as infants. Both groups of monkeys showed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress-induced activations and cardiac arousal in response to the stressor. A whole brain analysis detected significantly greater regional cerebral glucose metabolism (rCGM) in superior temporal sulcus, putamen, thalamus, and inferotemporal cortex of ELS animals compared to controls. Region of interest (ROI) analyses performed in areas identified as vulnerable to ELS showed greater activity in the orbitofrontal cortex of ELS compared to control monkeys, but greater hippocampal activity in the control compared to ELS monkeys. Together, these results suggest hyperactivity in emotional and sensory processing regions of adult monkeys with ELS, and greater activity in stress-regulatory areas in the controls. Despite these neural responses, no group differences were detected in neuroendocrine, autonomic or behavioral responses, except for a trend towards increased stillness in the ELS monkeys. Together, these data suggest hypervigilance in the ELS monkeys in the absence of immediate danger.
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