MR diffusion tensor imaging detects rapid microstructural changes in amygdala and hippocampus following fear conditioning in mice

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e51704. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051704. Epub 2013 Jan 30.


Background: Following fear conditioning (FC), ex vivo evidence suggests that early dynamics of cellular and molecular plasticity in amygdala and hippocampal circuits mediate responses to fear. Such altered dynamics in fear circuits are thought to be etiologically related to anxiety disorders including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Consistent with this, neuroimaging studies of individuals with established PTSD in the months after trauma have revealed changes in brain regions responsible for processing fear. However, whether early changes in fear circuits can be captured in vivo is not known.

Methods: We hypothesized that in vivo magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) would be sensitive to rapid microstructural changes elicited by FC in an experimental mouse PTSD model. We employed a repeated measures paired design to compare in vivo DTI measurements before, one hour after, and one day after FC-exposed mice (n=18).

Results: Using voxel-wise repeated measures analysis, fractional anisotropy (FA) significantly increased then decreased in amygdala, decreased then increased in hippocampus, and was increasing in cingulum and adjacent gray matter one hour and one day post-FC respectively. These findings demonstrate that DTI is sensitive to early changes in brain microstructure following FC, and that FC elicits distinct, rapid in vivo responses in amygdala and hippocampus.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that DTI can detect rapid microstructural changes in brain regions known to mediate fear conditioning in vivo. DTI indices could be explored as a translational tool to capture potential early biological changes in individuals at risk for developing PTSD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Radiography
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnostic imaging*

Grant support

This work was fully supported by Hong Kong Research Grant Council (HKU7837/11M and 7747/10). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. No additional external funding was received for this study.