Two central traits present in the most influential models of personality characterize the response to positive and, respectively, negative emotional events. Negative emotionality (NE)-related traits are linked to vulnerability to mood and anxiety disorders; this has fuelled a special interest in examining stable differences in brain morphology associated to these traits. Structural imaging methods including voxel-based morphometry, cortical thickness analysis and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) have yielded inconclusive and sometimes contradictory results. This review summarizes the findings reported to date through these methods and discusses them in relation to the functional imaging results. To detect topographic convergence between studies showing positive and, respectively, negative grey matter associations with NE-traits, activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses of VBM studies were performed. Individuals scoring high on NE-related traits show consistent morphological differences in a left-lateralized circuit: higher grey matter volume (GMV) in amygdala and anterior parahippocampal gyrus and lower GMV in the orbitofrontal cortex extending into perigenual anterior cingulate cortex. Most DTI studies indicate reduced white matter integrity in various brain regions and tracts, particularly in the uncinate fasciculus and in cingulum bundle. These results show that the behavioural phenotype associated to NE traits is reflected in structural differences within the cortico-limbic system, suggesting alterations in information processing and transmission. The results are discussed from the perspective of neuron-glia interactions. Future directions are outlined based on recent developments in structural imaging techniques.
Keywords: Diffusion weighted imaging; Harm avoidance; Negative emotionality; Neuroticism; Personality; Trait anxiety; Voxel-based morphometry.
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