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. 2016 Nov 17;10:583.
doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00583. eCollection 2016.

Prefrontal Cortex Activity Is Associated With Biobehavioral Components of the Stress Response

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Free PMC article

Prefrontal Cortex Activity Is Associated With Biobehavioral Components of the Stress Response

Muriah D Wheelock et al. Front Hum Neurosci. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Contemporary theory suggests that prefrontal cortex (PFC) function is associated with individual variability in the psychobiology of the stress response. Advancing our understanding of this complex biobehavioral pathway has potential to provide insight into processes that determine individual differences in stress susceptibility. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity during a variation of the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST) in 53 young adults. Salivary cortisol was assessed as an index of the stress response, trait anxiety was assessed as an index of an individual's disposition toward negative affectivity, and self-reported stress was assessed as an index of an individual's subjective psychological experience. Heart rate and skin conductance responses were also assessed as additional measures of physiological reactivity. Dorsomedial PFC, dorsolateral PFC, and inferior parietal lobule demonstrated differential activity during the MIST. Further, differences in salivary cortisol reactivity to the MIST were associated with ventromedial PFC and posterior cingulate activity, while trait anxiety and self-reported stress were associated with dorsomedial and ventromedial PFC activity, respectively. These findings underscore that PFC activity regulates behavioral and psychobiological components of the stress response.

Keywords: MIST; PFC; anxiety; cortisol; fMRI; stress.

Figures

FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1
Stress Response. Self-reported stress (A), skin conductance response (SCR) (B), and heart rate (HR) (C) were higher during Stress than Control Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST) conditions. SCR, Skin Conductance Response, calculated as the beta estimate of the SCRs to Math events. Reflects p < 0.05.
FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2
Salivary cortisol measurement (mean and SEM) for entire sample (N = 52), Responders (n = 22), and Non-responders (n = 30). Pre-MIST: immediately prior to scanning session, Post-MIST: 20 min after end of MIST.
FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3
Response to Control MIST (A), Stress MIST (B), and the differential (Stress vs. Control) response during the MIST (C) (N = 53). Differences were observed between Stress and Control conditions within regions including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and inferior parietal lobule. Images are FWE corrected p < 0.05 and presented in radiologic view.
FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4
Relationship between cortisol release and fMRI signal during the MIST. Differential activity (Stress vs. Control) associated with cortisol Non-responders (n = 30) (A) and Responders (n = 22) (B). A two-sample t-test revealed Non-responders demonstrated greater differential ventromedial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex activity than Responders (C). Images are FWE corrected at p < 0.05 and presented in radiologic view.
FIGURE 5
FIGURE 5
Trait anxiety and self-reported stress. Variance in BOLD fMRI signal during Stress vs. Control conditions varied with trait anxiety score (A) (N = 53) and self-reported stress (B) (n = 40). Scatterplots display peak activation within the dmPFC (x = -3, y = 19, z = 35) (A) and vmPFC (x = -1, y = -45, z = -16) (B). Images are FWE corrected at p < 0.05 and presented in radiologic view.
FIGURE 6
FIGURE 6
Conjunction of psychobiological measures associated with differential (Stress vs. Control) BOLD fMRI signal during the MIST. Conjunction of cortisol and trait anxiety showed overlapping areas of activation within posterior cingulate cortex and bilateral superior temporal gyrus (A). Conjunction of self-reported stress and cortisol showed overlapping areas of activation within ventromedial prefrontal cortex (B). No overlapping areas were identified between trait anxiety and self-reported stress or the conjunction of trait anxiety, self-reported stress, and cortisol. Results FWE corrected at p < 0.05.

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