Fatty acid amide hydrolase binding is inversely correlated with amygdalar functional connectivity: a combined positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging study in healthy individuals

J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2021 Mar 17;46(2):E238-E246. doi: 10.1503/jpn.200010.


Background: Upregulation of the endocannabinoid enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) has been linked to abnormal activity in frontoamygdalar circuits, a hallmark of posttraumatic stress disorder. We tested the hypothesis that FAAH levels in the amygdala were negatively correlated with functional connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, subserving stress and affect control.

Methods: Thirty-one healthy participants completed positron emission tomography (PET) imaging with the FAAH probe [C-11]CURB, and resting-state functional MRI scans. Participants were genotyped for the FAAH polymorphism rs324420, and trait neuroticism was assessed. We calculated amygdala functional connectivity using predetermined regions of interest (including the subgenual ventromedial prefrontal cortex [sgvmPFC] and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex [dACC]) and a seed-to-voxel approach. We conducted correlation analyses on functional connectivity, with amygdala [C-11]CURB binding as a variable of interest.

Results: The strength of amygdala functional connectivity with the sgvmPFC and dACC was negatively correlated with [C-11]CURB binding in the amygdala (sgvmPFC: r = -0.38, q = 0.04; dACC: r = -0.44; q = 0.03). Findings were partly replicated using the seed-to-voxel approach, which showed a cluster in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, including voxels in the dACC but not the sgvmPFC (cluster-level, family-wise error rate corrected p < 0.05).

Limitations: We did not replicate earlier findings of a relationship between an FAAH polymorphism (rs324420) and amygdala functional connectivity.

Conclusion: Our data provide preliminary evidence that lower levels of FAAH in the amygdala relate to increased frontoamygdalar functional coupling. Our findings were consistent with the role of FAAH in regulating brain circuits that underlie fear and emotion processing in humans.