Temporal dynamics of stress-induced alternations of intrinsic amygdala connectivity and neuroendocrine levels

PLoS One. 2015 May 6;10(5):e0124141. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124141. eCollection 2015.


Stress-induced changes in functional brain connectivity have been linked to the etiology of stress-related disorders. Resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) is especially informative in characterizing the temporal trajectory of glucocorticoids during stress adaptation. Using the imaging Maastricht Acute Stress Test (iMAST), we induced acute stress in 39 healthy volunteers and monitored the neuroendocrine stress levels during three runs of resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI): before (run 1), immediately following (run 2), and 30 min after acute stress (run 3). The iMAST resulted in strong increases in cortisol levels. Whole-brain analysis revealed that acute stress (run 2 - 1) was characterized by changes in connectivity of the amygdala with the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC), ventral posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), cuneus, parahippocampal gyrus, and culmen. Additionally, cortisol responders were characterized by enhanced amygdala - medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) connectivity. Stress recovery (run 3 - 2) was characterized by altered amygdala connectivity with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), ventral and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), anterior hippocampal complex, cuneus, and presupplementary motor area (preSMA). Opposite to non-responders, cortisol responders were characterized by enhanced amygdala connectivity with the anterior hippocampal complex and parahippocampal gyrus, and reduced connectivity with left dlPFC, dACC, and culmen during early recovery. Acute stress responding and recovery are thus associated with changes in the functional connectivity of the amygdala network. Our findings show that these changes may be regulated via stress-induced neuroendocrine levels. Defining stress-induced neuronal network changes is pertinent to developing treatments that target abnormal neuronal activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Connectome*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Hydrocortisone

Grants and funding

This research was supported by grants 451-08-005 and 056-25-011 from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to TS. NWO had no further role in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.