The amygdala is a heterogenous set of nuclei with widespread cortical connections that continues to develop postnatally with vital implications for emotional regulation. Using high-resolution anatomical and multi-shell diffusion MRI in conjunction with novel amygdala segmentation, cutting-edge tractography, and Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density (NODDI) methods, the goal of the current study was to characterize age associations with microstructural properties of amygdala subnuclei and amygdala-related white matter connections across adolescence (N = 61, 26 males; ages of 8-22 years). We found age-related increases in the Neurite Density Index (NDI) in the lateral nucleus (LA), dorsal and intermediate divisions of the basolateral nucleus (BLDI), and ventral division of the basolateral nucleus and paralaminar nucleus (BLVPL). Additionally, there were age-related increases in the NDI of the anterior commissure, ventral amygdalofugal pathway, cingulum, and uncinate fasciculus, with the strongest age associations in the frontal and temporal regions of these white matter tracts. This is the first study to utilize NODDI to show neurite density of basolateral amygdala subnuclei to relate to age across adolescence. Moreover, age-related differences were also notable in white matter microstructural properties along the anterior commissure and ventral amydalofugal tracts, suggesting increased bilateral amygdalae to diencephalon structural connectivity. As these basolateral regions and the ventral amygdalofugal pathways have been involved in associative emotional conditioning, future research is needed to determine if age-related and/or individual differences in the development of these microstructural properties link to socio-emotional functioning and/or risk for psychopathology.
Keywords: Adolescence; Amygdala; Diffusion; Neurodevelopment; Sex differences; Tractography.
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