Neighborhood Disadvantage Associated With Blunted Amygdala Reactivity to Predictable and Unpredictable Threat in a Community Sample of Youth

Biol Psychiatry Glob Open Sci. 2022 Jul;2(3):242-252. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsgos.2022.03.006. Epub 2022 Mar 17.


Background: Childhood socioeconomic disadvantage is a form of adversity associated with alterations in critical frontolimbic circuits involved in the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders. Most work has focused on individual-level socioeconomic position, yet individuals living in deprived communities typically encounter additional environmental stressors that have unique effects on the brain and health outcomes. Notably, chronic and unpredictable stressors experienced in the everyday lives of youth living in disadvantaged neighborhoods may impact neural responsivity to uncertain threat.

Methods: A community sample of children (N = 254) ages 8 to 15 years (mean = 12.15) completed a picture anticipation task during a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, during which neutral and negatively valenced photos were presented in a temporally predictable or unpredictable manner. Area Deprivation Index (ADI) scores were derived from participants' home addresses as an index of relative neighborhood disadvantage. Voxelwise analyses examined interactions of ADI, valence, and predictability on neural response to picture presentation.

Results: There was a significant ADI × valence interaction in the middle temporal gyrus, anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Higher ADI was associated with less amygdala activation to negatively valenced images. ADI also interacted with predictability. Higher ADI was associated with greater activation of lingual and calcarine gyri for unpredictably presented stimuli. There was no three-way interaction of ADI, valence, and predictability.

Conclusions: Neighborhood disadvantage may impact how the brain perceives and responds to potential threats. Future longitudinal work is critical for delineating how such effects may persist across the life span and how health outcomes may be modifiable with community-based interventions and policies.