Amygdalar reactivity is associated with prefrontal cortical thickness in a large population-based sample of adolescents

PLoS One. 2019 May 2;14(5):e0216152. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216152. eCollection 2019.


In structural neuroimaging studies, reduced cerebral cortical thickness in orbital and ventromedial prefrontal regions is frequently interpreted as reflecting an impaired ability to downregulate neuronal activity in the amygdalae. Unfortunately, little research has been conducted in order to test this conjecture. We examine the extent to which amygdalar reactivity is associated with cortical thickness in a population-based sample of adolescents. Data were obtained from the IMAGEN study, which includes 2,223 adolescents. While undergoing functional neuroimaging, participants passively viewed video clips of a face that started from a neutral expression and progressively turned angry, or, instead, turned to a second neutral expression. Left and right amygdala ROIs were used to extract mean BOLD signal change for the angry minus neutral face contrast for all subjects. T1-weighted images were processed through the CIVET pipeline (version 2.1.0). In variable-centered analyses, local cortical thickness was regressed against amygdalar reactivity using first and second-order linear models. In a follow-up person-centered analysis, we defined a "high reactive" group of participants based on mean amygdalar BOLD signal change for the angry minus neutral face contrast. Between-group differences in cortical thickness were examined ("high reactive" versus all other participants). A significant association was revealed between the continuous measure of amygdalar reactivity and bilateral ventromedial prefrontal cortical thickness in a second-order linear model (p < 0.05, corrected). The "high reactive" group, in comparison to all other participants, possessed reduced cortical thickness in bilateral orbital and ventromedial prefrontal cortices, bilateral anterior temporal cortices, left caudal middle temporal gyrus, and the left inferior and middle frontal gyri (p < 0.05, corrected). Results are consistent with non-human primate studies, and provide empirical support for an association between reduced prefrontal cortical thickness and amygdalar reactivity. Future research will likely benefit from investigating the degree to which psychopathology qualifies relations between prefrontal cortical structure and amygdalar reactivity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging*
  • Amygdala / metabolism
  • Amygdala / pathology*
  • Anger / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology*
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology