Amygdala hyperactivation to angry faces in intermittent explosive disorder

J Psychiatr Res. 2016 Aug;79:34-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.04.006. Epub 2016 Apr 24.


Background: Individuals with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) were previously found to exhibit amygdala hyperactivation and relatively reduced orbital medial prefrontal cortex (OMPFC) activation to angry faces while performing an implicit emotion information processing task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This study examines the neural substrates associated with explicit encoding of facial emotions among individuals with IED.

Method: Twenty unmedicated IED subjects and twenty healthy, matched comparison subjects (HC) underwent fMRI while viewing blocks of angry, happy, and neutral faces and identifying the emotional valence of each face (positive, negative or neutral). We compared amygdala and OMPFC reactivity to faces between IED and HC subjects. We also examined the relationship between amygdala/OMPFC activation and aggression severity.

Results: Compared to controls, the IED group exhibited greater amygdala response to angry (vs. neutral) facial expressions. In contrast, IED and control groups did not differ in OMPFC activation to angry faces. Across subjects amygdala activation to angry faces was correlated with number of prior aggressive acts.

Conclusions: These findings extend previous evidence of amygdala dysfunction in response to the identification of an ecologically-valid social threat signal (processing angry faces) among individuals with IED, further substantiating a link between amygdala hyperactivity to social signals of direct threat and aggression.

Keywords: Aggression; Amygdala; Explicit emotion information processing; Faces; Intermittent explosive disorder; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Anger
  • Brain Mapping
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology