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1.  Enhanced amygdala reactivity to emotional faces in adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment 
In the context of chronic childhood emotional maltreatment (CEM; emotional abuse and/or neglect), adequately responding to facial expressions is an important skill. Over time, however, this adaptive response may lead to a persistent vigilance for emotional facial expressions. The amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are key regions in face processing. However, the neurobiological correlates of face processing in adults reporting CEM are yet unknown. We examined amydala and mPFC reactivity to emotional faces (Angry, Fearful, Sad, Happy, Neutral) vs scrambled faces in healthy controls and unmedicated patients with depression and/or anxiety disorders reporting CEM before the age of 16 years (n = 60), and controls and patients who report no childhood abuse (n = 75). We found that CEM was associated with enhanced bilateral amygdala reactivity to emotional faces in general, and independent of psychiatric status. Furthermore, we found no support for differential mPFC functioning, suggesting that amygdala hyper-responsivity to emotional facial perception in adults reporting CEM may be independent from top–down influences of the mPFC. These findings may be key in understanding the increased emotional sensitivity and interpersonal difficulties, that have been reported in individuals with a history of CEM.
PMCID: PMC3624946  PMID: 22258799
Amygdala; childhood emotional maltreatment; fMRI; mPFC; stress
2.  Increased anterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus activation in Complex PTSD during encoding of negative words 
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with impaired memory performance coupled with functional changes in brain areas involved in declarative memory and emotion regulation. It is not yet clear how symptom severity and comorbidity affect neurocognitive functioning in PTSD. We performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study with an emotional declarative memory task in 28 Complex PTSD patients with comorbid depressive and personality disorders, and 21 healthy non-trauma-exposed controls. In Complex PTSD patients—compared to controls—encoding of later remembered negative words vs baseline was associated with increased blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response in the left ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and dorsal ACC extending to the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) together with a trend for increased left hippocampus activation. Patients tended to commit more False Alarms to negative words compared to controls, which was associated with enhanced left ventrolateral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex (vlPFC/OFC) responses. Severity of child abuse was positively correlated with left ventral ACC activity and severity of depression with (para) hippocampal and ventral ACC activity. Presented results demonstrate functional abnormalities in Complex PTSD in the frontolimbic brain circuit also implicated in fear conditioning models, but generally in the opposite direction, which may be explained by severity of the trauma and severity of comorbid depression in Complex PTSD.
PMCID: PMC3575721  PMID: 22156722
anterior cingulate cortex; hippocampus; memory; complex post-traumatic stress disorder; childhood abuse
3.  Childhood Emotional Maltreatment Severity Is Associated with Dorsal Medial Prefrontal Cortex Responsivity to Social Exclusion in Young Adults 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e85107.
Children who have experienced chronic parental rejection and exclusion during childhood, as is the case in childhood emotional maltreatment, may become especially sensitive to social exclusion. This study investigated the neural and emotional responses to social exclusion (with the Cyberball task) in young adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated brain responses and self-reported distress to social exclusion in 46 young adult patients and healthy controls (mean age = 19.2±2.16) reporting low to extreme childhood emotional maltreatment. Consistent with prior studies, social exclusion was associated with activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. In addition, severity of childhood emotional maltreatment was positively associated with increased dorsal medial prefrontal cortex responsivity to social exclusion. The dorsal medial prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role in self-and other-referential processing, suggesting that the more individuals have been rejected and maltreated in childhood, the more self- and other- processing is elicited by social exclusion in adulthood. Negative self-referential thinking, in itself, enhances cognitive vulnerability for the development of psychiatric disorders. Therefore, our findings may underlie the emotional and behavioural difficulties that have been reported in adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment.
PMCID: PMC3885678  PMID: 24416347
4.  Amygdala and Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Connectivity during an Emotional Working Memory Task in Borderline Personality Disorder Patients with Interpersonal Trauma History 
Working memory is critically involved in ignoring emotional distraction while maintaining goal-directed behavior. Antagonistic interactions between brain regions implicated in emotion processing, e.g., amygdala, and brain regions involved in cognitive control, e.g., dorsolateral and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dlPFC, dmPFC), may play an important role in coping with emotional distraction. We previously reported prolonged reaction times associated with amygdala hyperreactivity during emotional distraction in interpersonally traumatized borderline personality disorder (BPD) patients compared to healthy controls (HC): Participants performed a working memory task, while neutral versus negative distractors (interpersonal scenes from the International Affective Picture System) were presented. Here, we re-analyzed data from this study using psychophysiological interaction analysis. The bilateral amygdala and bilateral dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) were defined as seed regions of interest. Whole-brain regression analyses with reaction times and self-reported increase of dissociation were performed. During emotional distraction, reduced amygdala connectivity with clusters in the left dorsolateral and ventrolateral PFC was observed in the whole group. Compared to HC, BPD patients showed a stronger coupling of both seeds with a cluster in the right dmPFC and stronger positive amygdala connectivity with bilateral (para)hippocampus. Patients further demonstrated stronger positive dACC connectivity with left posterior cingulate, insula, and frontoparietal regions during emotional distraction. Reaction times positively predicted amygdala connectivity with right dmPFC and (para)hippocampus, while dissociation positively predicted amygdala connectivity with right ACC during emotional distraction in patients. Our findings suggest increased attention to task-irrelevant (emotional) social information during a working memory task in interpersonally traumatized patients with BPD.
PMCID: PMC4211399  PMID: 25389397
amygdala; anterior cingulate cortex; borderline personality disorder; emotional distraction; emotional working memory; functional connectivity; interpersonal trauma; psychophysiological interactions
5.  Stress shifts brain activation towards ventral ‘affective’ areas during emotional distraction 
Acute stress has been shown to impair working memory (WM), and to decrease prefrontal activation during WM in healthy humans. Stress also enhances amygdala responses towards emotional stimuli. Stress might thus be specifically detrimental to WM when one is distracted by emotional stimuli. Usually, emotional stimuli presented as distracters in a WM task slow down performance, while evoking more activation in ventral ‘affective’ brain areas, and a relative deactivation in dorsal ‘executive’ areas. We hypothesized that after acute social stress, this reciprocal dorsal–ventral pattern would be shifted towards greater increase of ventral ‘affective’ activation during emotional distraction, while impairing WM performance. To investigate this, 34 healthy men, randomly assigned to a social stress or control condition, performed a Sternberg WM task with emotional and neutral distracters inside an MRI scanner. Results showed that WM performance after stress tended to be slower during emotional distraction. Brain activations during emotional distraction was enhanced in ventral affective areas, while dorsal executive areas tended to show less deactivation after stress. These results suggest that acute stress shifts priority towards processing of emotionally significant stimuli, at the cost of WM performance.
PMCID: PMC3324570  PMID: 21498384
stress; emotional distraction; cortisol; working memory; imaging
6.  Serum BDNF Concentrations Show Strong Seasonal Variation and Correlations with the Amount of Ambient Sunlight 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48046.
Earlier findings show seasonality in processes and behaviors such as brain plasticity and depression that in part are regulated by Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). Based on this we investigated seasonal variation in serum BDNF concentrations in 2,851 persons who took part in the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA). Analyses by month of sampling (monthly n’s >196) showed pronounced seasonal variation in serum BDNF concentrations (P<.0001) with increasing concentrations in the spring-summer period (standardized regression weight (ß) = 0.19, P<.0001) and decreasing concentrations in the autumn-winter period (ß = −0.17, P<.0001). Effect sizes [Cohen’s d] ranged from 0.27 to 0.66 for monthly significant differences. We found similar seasonal variation for both sexes and for persons with a DSM-IV depression diagnosis and healthy control subjects. In explorative analyses we found that the number of sunshine hours (a major trigger to entrain seasonality) in the week of blood withdrawal and the 10 weeks prior to this event positively correlated with serum BDNF concentrations (Pearson’s correlation coefficients ranged: 0.05 – 0.18) and this could partly explain the observed monthly variation. These results provide strong evidence that serum BDNF concentrations systematically vary over the year. This finding is important for our understanding of those factors that regulate BDNF expression and may provide novel avenues to understand seasonal dependent changes in behavior and illness such as depression. Finally, the findings reported here should be taken into account when designing and interpreting studies on BDNF.
PMCID: PMC3487856  PMID: 23133609
7.  Structural and functional plasticity of the human brain in posttraumatic stress disorder 
Progress in brain research  2008;167:171-186.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with long-term changes in neurobiology. Brain areas involved in the stress response include the medial prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Neurohormonal systems that act on the brain areas to modulate PTSD symptoms and memory include glucocorticoids and norepinephrine. Dysfunction of these brain areas is responsible for the symptoms of PTSD. Brain imaging studies show that PTSD patients have increased amygdala reactivity during fear acquisition. Other studies show smaller hippocampal volume. A failure of medial prefrontal/anterior cingulate activation with re-experiencing of the trauma is hypothesized to represent a neural correlate of the failure of extinction seen in PTSD. The brain has the capacity for plasticity in the aftermath of traumatic stress. Antidepressant treatments and changes in environment can reverse the effects of stress on hippocampal neurogenesis, and humans with PTSD showed increased hippocampal volume with both paroxetine and phenytoin.
PMCID: PMC3226705  PMID: 18037014
PET; depression; cortisol; glucocorticoids; stress; PTSD
8.  Intrusions of autobiographical memories in individuals reporting childhood emotional maltreatment 
European Journal of Psychotraumatology  2011;2:10.3402/ejpt.v2i0.7336.
During childhood emotional maltreatment (CEM) negative attitudes are provided to the child (e.g., “you are worthless”). These negative attitudes may result in emotion inhibition strategies in order to avoid thinking of memories of CEM, such as thought suppression. However, thought suppression may paradoxically enhance occurrences (i.e., intrusions) of these memories, which may occur immediately or sometime after active suppression of these memories.
Until now, studies that examined suppressive coping styles in individuals reporting CEM have utilized self-report questionnaires. Therefore, it is unclear what the consequences will be of emotion inhibition styles on the intrusion of autobiographical memories in individuals reporting CEM.
Using a thought suppression task, this study aimed to investigate the experience of intrusions during suppression of, and when no longer instructed to actively suppress, positive and negative autobiographical memories in individuals reporting Low, Moderate, and Severe CEM compared to No Abuse (total N=83).
We found no group differences during active suppression of negative and positive autobiographical memories. However, when individuals reporting Severe CEM were no longer instructed to suppress thinking about the memory, individuals reporting No Abuse, Low CEM, or Moderate CEM reported fewer intrusions of both positive and negative autobiographical memories than individuals reporting Severe CEM. Finally, we found that intrusions of negative memories are strongly related with psychiatric distress.
The present study results provide initial insights into the cognitive mechanisms that may underlie the consequences of childhood emotional maltreatment and suggests avenues for successful interventions.
PMCID: PMC3402144  PMID: 22893818
Childhood emotional maltreatment; intrusions; suppression; autobiographical memories
9.  Do Horizontal Saccadic Eye Movements Increase Interhemispheric Coherence? Investigation of a Hypothesized Neural Mechanism Underlying EMDR 
Series of horizontal saccadic eye movements (EMs) are known to improve episodic memory retrieval in healthy adults and to facilitate the processing of traumatic memories in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Several authors have proposed that EMs achieve these effects by increasing the functional connectivity of the two brain hemispheres, but direct evidence for this proposal is lacking. The aim of this study was to investigate whether memory enhancement following bilateral EMs is associated with increased interhemispheric coherence in the electroencephalogram (EEG). Fourteen healthy young adults were asked to freely recall lists of studied neutral and emotional words after a series of bilateral EMs and a control procedure. Baseline EEG activity was recorded before and after the EM and control procedures. Phase and amplitude coherence between bilaterally homologous brain areas were calculated for six frequency bands and electrode pairs across the entire scalp. Behavioral analyses showed that participants recalled more emotional (but not neutral) words following the EM procedure than following the control procedure. However, the EEG analyses indicated no evidence that the EMs altered participants’ interhemispheric coherence or that improvements in recall were correlated with such changes in coherence. These findings cast doubt on the interhemispheric interaction hypothesis, and therefore may have important implications for future research on the neurobiological mechanism underlying EMDR.
PMCID: PMC3089996  PMID: 21556274
horizontal; saccadic; eye; movements; coherence; interhemispheric; emotional; EMDR
10.  The impact of childhood abuse and recent stress on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the moderating role of BDNF Val66Met 
Psychopharmacology  2010;214(1):319-328.
Recent findings show lowered brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in major depressive disorder (MDD). Exposure to stressful life events may (partly) underlie these BDNF reductions, but little is known about the effects of early or recent life stress on BDNF levels. Moreover, the effects of stressful events on BDNF levels may in part be conditional upon a common variant on the BDNF gene (Val66Met; RS6265), with the Met allele being associated with a decrease in activity-dependent secretion of BDNF compared to the Val allele.
We investigated cross-sectionally in 1,435 individuals with lifetime MDD the impact of childhood abuse (CA) and recent life events on serum BDNF levels and assessed whether the impact of these events was moderated by the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism.
Overall, BDNF Met carriers had reduced serum BDNF levels when exposed to CA in a dose-dependent way. Moreover, exposure to recent life events was also associated with decreases in BDNF levels, but this was independent of BDNF Val66Met. Moreover, when not exposed to CA, Met carriers had higher BDNF levels than the Val/Val individuals, who did not show decreases in BDNF associated with CA. Finally, these findings were only apparent in the MDD group without comorbid anxiety.
These gene–environment interactions on serum BDNF levels suggest that Met carriers are particularly sensitive to (early) stressful life events, which extends previous findings on the moderating role of the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism in the face of stressful life events.
PMCID: PMC3045516  PMID: 20703451
Stress; BDNF; Depression; Gene; Childhood abuse
11.  Glucocorticoids Decrease Hippocampal and Prefrontal Activation during Declarative Memory Retrieval in Young Men 
Brain Imaging and Behavior  2007;1(1-2):31-41.
Glucocorticoids (GCs, cortisol in human) are associated with impairments in declarative memory retrieval. Brain regions hypothesized to mediate these effects are the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC). Our aim was to use fMRI in localizing the effects of GCs during declarative memory retrieval. Therefore, we tested memory retrieval in 21 young healthy males in a randomized placebo-controlled crossover design. Participants encoded word lists containing neutral and emotional words 1 h prior to ingestion of 20 mg hydrocortisone. Memory retrieval was tested using an old/new recognition paradigm in a rapid event-related design. It was found that hydrocortisone decreased brain activity in both the hippocampus and PFC during successful retrieval of neutral words. These observations are consistent with previous animal and human studies suggesting that glucocorticoids modulate both hippocampal and prefrontal brain regions that are crucially involved in memory processing.
Electronic Supplementary Material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11682-007-9003-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2780685  PMID: 19946603
fMRI; Glucocorticoids; Hippocampus; Memory retrieval; PFC

Results 1-11 (11)