Inflammation, amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal functional connectivity and symptoms of anxiety and PTSD in African American women recruited from an inner-city hospital: Preliminary results

Brain Behav Immun. 2022 Oct:105:122-130. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2022.06.013. Epub 2022 Jun 27.


Inflammatory stimuli have been shown to impact brain regions involved in threat detection and emotional processing including amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and to increase anxiety. Biomarkers of endogenous inflammation, including inflammatory cytokines and C-reactive protein (CRP), are reliably elevated in a subset of patients with depression and anxiety-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and have been associated with high anxiety in population studies. We previously reported that plasma CRP and cytokines in patients with depression were negatively correlated with resting-state functional connectivity (FC) between right amygdala and vmPFC, as assessed using both ROI to voxel-wise and targeted FC approaches, in association with symptoms of anxiety, particularly in patients with comorbid anxiety disorders or PTSD. To determine whether relationships between inflammation, right amygdala-vmPFC FC, and anxiety are reproducible across patient samples and research settings, we employed an a priori, hypothesis-driven approach to examine relationships between inflammation, targeted right amygdala-vmPFC FC and anxiety in a cohort of African American (AA) women (n = 54) recruited from an inner-city hospital population reliably found to have higher levels of inflammation (median CRP ∼ 4 mg/L) as well as symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD. Higher concentrations of plasma CRP were associated with lower right amygdala-vmPFC FC (r = -0.32, p = 0.017), and this relationship remained significant when controlling for age, body mass index and number of lifetime trauma events experienced, as well as severity of PTSD and depression symptoms (all p < 0.05). This amygdala-vmPFC FC was similarly associated with a composite score of three inflammatory cytokines in a subset of women where plasma was available for analysis (n = 33, r = -0.33, p = 0.058; adjusted r = -0.43, p = 0.026 when controlling for covariates including PTSD and depression symptom severity). Lower right amygdala-vmPFC FC was in turn associated with higher levels of anxiety reported to be generally experienced on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, trait component (adjusted r = -0.32, p = 0.039 when controlling for covariates). Exploratory analyses also revealed a negative correlation between severity of childhood maltreatment and right amygdala-vmPFC FC (r = -0.32, p = 0.018) that was independent of CRP and its association with FC, as well as an association between low amygdala-vmPFC FC and severity of PTSD symptoms, specifically the re-experiencing/intrusive symptom subscale (adjusted r = -0.32, p = 0.028 when controlling for covariates). While CRP was not linearly associated with either anxiety or PTSD symptoms, CRP concentrations were higher in women reporting clinically significant anxiety or PTSD symptom severity when these symptoms were considered together (both p < 0.05), but with no interaction. These results support our primary hypothesis that higher inflammation was associated with lower amygdala-vmPFC FC, a relationship that was detected using a hypothesis-driven, targeted approach. Findings also support that this phenotype of high CRP and low vmPFC FC was observed in association with anxiety in primary analyses, as well as symptoms of PTSD in exploratory analyses, in a cohort recruited from an inner-city population of AA women enriched for high inflammation, history of trauma exposure, and symptom severity. Larger, longitudinal samples are required to fully tease apart causal relationships between inflammatory biomarkers, FC and PTSD-related symptoms in future studies.

Keywords: Amygdala; Anxiety; C-reactive protein; Functional connectivity; Inflammation; Trauma; fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / metabolism
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Black or African American
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Urban
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Neural Pathways
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology


  • Cytokines
  • C-Reactive Protein