Stress and the medial temporal lobe at rest: Functional connectivity is associated with both memory and cortisol

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Aug;106:138-146. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.04.001. Epub 2019 Apr 3.


When acute stress is experienced immediately after memory encoding (i.e., post-encoding stress) it can significantly impact subsequent memory for that event. For example, recent work has suggested that post-encoding stress occurring in a different context from encoding impairs memory. However, the neural processes underlying these effects are poorly understood. We aimed to expand this understanding by conducting an analysis of resting functional connectivity in the period following post-encoding stress that occurred in a different context than encoding, using seed regions in the medial temporal lobes known for their roles in memory. In the current study of 44 males randomized to stress (n = 23) or control (n = 21) groups, we found that stress increased cortisol, impaired recollection of neutral materials, and altered functional connectivity with medial temporal lobe regions. Although stress did not significantly alter hippocampus-amygdala functional connectivity, relative to participants in the control group, participants in the post-encoding stress group showed lower functional connectivity between the hippocampus and a region with a peak in the superior temporal gyrus. Across participants in both groups, functional connectivity between these regions was related to greater increases in cortisol, and it was also inversely related to recollection of neutral materials. In contrast, the stress group showed greater parahippocampal cortex functional connectivity with a region in the left middle temporal gyrus than the control group. Moreover, greater functional connectivity between the parahippocampal cortex and the observed cluster in the middle temporal gyrus was associated with greater cortisol changes from pre- to post-manipulation, but was not related to differences in memory. The results show that post-encoding stress can alter the resting-state functional connectivity between the medial temporal lobe and neocortex, which may help explain how stress impacts memory.

Keywords: Context; Functional connectivity; Memory; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Connectome / methods
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Rest
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone