Dynamic changes in thalamic connectivity following stress and its association with future depression severity

Brain Behav. 2019 Dec;9(12):e01445. doi: 10.1002/brb3.1445. Epub 2019 Oct 25.


Introduction: Tracking stress-induced brain activity and connectivity dynamically and examining activity/connectivity-associated recovery ability after stress might be an effective way of detecting stress vulnerability.

Methods: Using two widely used stress paradigms, a speech task (social stress) and a mathematical calculation task (mental loading stress), we examined common changes in regional homogeneity (ReHo) and functional connectivity (FC) before, during, and after the two stressful tasks in thirty-nine college students. A counting breath relaxation task was employed as a contrast task. ReHo and FC were compared between subjects with higher versus lower depression symptoms (assessed by the Beck Depression Inventory, BDI). We developed a recovery index (RI) based on dynamic changes of ReHo/FC to evaluate individuals' ability to recover from a stressful state. To assess RI's usefulness in predicting future depression severity, BDI was also measured at one-year follow-up.

Results: Our results revealed a ReHo decrease after both stressful tasks and a ReHo increase after the relaxation task in bilateral thalamus. The ReHo decrease after both stressful tasks was more significant in the higher BDI than the lower BDI group. Higher ReHo RI of the right thalamus in the higher BDI groups was significantly correlated with lower BDI severity at one-year follow-up. Bilateral thalamus also showed increased FC with the default mode network and decreased FC with the executive control network after the stressful tasks.

Conclusion: These findings highlight the importance of tracking resting activity and connectivity of thalamus dynamically for detecting stress vulnerability.

Keywords: fMRI; mental loading stress; social stress; stress vulnerability; thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Depression / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging*
  • Rest
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thalamus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Young Adult