Significant grey matter changes in a region of the orbitofrontal cortex in healthy participants predicts emotional dysregulation

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Jul;11(7):1041-9. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsv072. Epub 2015 Jun 15.


The traditional concept of 'categorical' psychiatric disorders has been challenged as many of the symptoms display a continuous distribution in the general population. We suggest that this is the case for emotional dysregulation, a key component in several categorical psychiatric disorder constructs. We used voxel-based magnetic resonance imaging morphometry in healthy human subjects (n = 87) to study how self-reported subclinical symptoms associated with emotional dysregulation relate to brain regions assumed to be critical for emotion regulation. To measure a pure emotional dysregulation, we also corrected for subclinical symptoms of non-emotional attentional dysregulation. We show that such subclinical emotional symptoms correlate negatively with the grey matter volume of lateral orbitofrontal cortex bilaterally-a region assumed to be critical for emotion regulation and dysfunctional in psychiatric disorders involving emotional dysregulation. Importantly, this effect is mediated both by a decrease in volume associated with emotional dysregulation and an increase in volume due to non-emotional attentional dysregulation. Exploratory analysis suggests that other regions involved in emotional processing such as insula and ventral striatum also show a similar reduction in grey matter volume mirroring clinical disorders associated with emotional dysregulation. Our findings support the concept of continuous properties in psychiatric symptomatology.

Keywords: emotional dysregulation; orbitofrontal cortex; structural MRI; voxel-based morphometry.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / pathology*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Ventral Striatum / pathology