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1.  Habenula volume in post-traumatic stress disorder measured with high-resolution MRI 
The habenula plays an important role in regulating behavioral responses to stress and shows increased cerebral blood flow and decreased gray matter volume in patients with mood disorders. Here, we compare the volume of the habenula in unmedicated patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and healthy controls (HC) using MRI.
High-resolution images (resolution of approximately 0.4 mm3) were acquired using a 3T scanner and a pulse sequence optimized for tissue contrast resolution. The habenula was manually segmented by one rater blind to diagnosis. PTSD and HC participants did not differ significantly in absolute or normalized habenula volume. Post hoc analyses controlling for the effects of comorbid major depressive disorder (MDD) and type and age of trauma exposure were not significant. Further, there was no association between PTSD severity and habenula volume.
Our data suggest that PTSD is not associated with robust structural changes in the habenula. The modest size of the PTSD sample may have reduced statistical power thereby accounting for the negative results obtained.
PMCID: PMC3384261  PMID: 22738208
2.  Amygdala activation to threat under attentional load in individuals with anxiety disorder 
Previous studies in healthy subjects have shown that strong attentional distraction prevents the amygdala from responding to threat stimuli. Here, we investigated the effects of attentional load on amygdala activation to threat-related stimuli in individuals suffering from an anxiety disorder.
During functional magnetic resonance imaging, spider-phobicand healthy control subjects were presented with phobia-related and neutral stimuli while performing a distraction task with varying perceptual load (high vs low).
Our data revealed a pattern of simultaneously increased amygdala and visual cortical activation to threat vs neutral pictures in phobic individuals, compared with controls, occurring regardless of attentional load.
These results suggest that, in contrast to studies in healthy subjects, amygdala activation to clinically relevant threat stimuli is more resistant to attentional load.
PMCID: PMC3384227  PMID: 22738024
3.  Frontostriatal functional connectivity in major depressive disorder 
Abnormalities of the striatum and frontal cortex have been reported consistently in studies of neural structure and function in major depressive disorder (MDD). Despite speculation that compromised connectivity between these regions may underlie symptoms of MDD, little work has investigated the integrity of frontostriatal circuits in this disorder.
Functional magnetic resonance images were acquired from 21 currently depressed and 19 never-disordered women during wakeful rest. Using four predefined striatal regions-of-interest, seed-to-whole brain correlations were computed and compared between groups.
Compared to controls, depressed participants exhibited attenuated functional connectivity between the ventral striatum and both ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex. Depressed participants also exhibited stronger connectivity between the dorsal caudate and dorsal prefrontal cortex, which was positively correlated with severity of the disorder.
Depressed individuals are characterized by aberrant connectivity in frontostriatal circuits that are posited to support affective and cognitive processing. Further research is required to examine more explicitly the link between patterns of disrupted connectivity and specific symptoms of depression, and the extent to which these patterns precede the onset of depression and normalize with recovery from depressive illness.
PMCID: PMC3384258  PMID: 22737995
depression; functional connectivity; striatum; subgenual anterior cingulate cortex; dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; fMRI
4.  Criteria of validity for animal models of psychiatric disorders: focus on anxiety disorders and depression 
Animal models of psychiatric disorders are usually discussed with regard to three criteria first elaborated by Willner; face, predictive and construct validity. Here, we draw the history of these concepts and then try to redraw and refine these criteria, using the framework of the diathesis model of depression that has been proposed by several authors. We thus propose a set of five major criteria (with sub-categories for some of them); homological validity (including species validity and strain validity), pathogenic validity (including ontopathogenic validity and triggering validity), mechanistic validity, face validity (including ethological and biomarker validity) and predictive validity (including induction and remission validity). Homological validity requires that an adequate species and strain be chosen: considering species validity, primates will be considered to have a higher score than drosophila, and considering strains, a high stress reactivity in a strain scores higher than a low stress reactivity in another strain. Pathological validity corresponds to the fact that, in order to shape pathological characteristics, the organism has been manipulated both during the developmental period (for example, maternal separation: ontopathogenic validity) and during adulthood (for example, stress: triggering validity). Mechanistic validity corresponds to the fact that the cognitive (for example, cognitive bias) or biological mechanisms (such as dysfunction of the hormonal stress axis regulation) underlying the disorder are identical in both humans and animals. Face validity corresponds to the observable behavioral (ethological validity) or biological (biomarker validity) outcomes: for example anhedonic behavior (ethological validity) or elevated corticosterone (biomarker validity). Finally, predictive validity corresponds to the identity of the relationship between the triggering factor and the outcome (induction validity) and between the effects of the treatments on the two organisms (remission validity). The relevance of this framework is then discussed regarding various animal models of depression.
PMCID: PMC3384226  PMID: 22738250
5.  Facial emotion processing in major depression: a systematic review of neuroimaging findings 
Cognitive models of depression suggest that major depression is characterized by biased facial emotion processing, making facial stimuli particularly valuable for neuroimaging research on the neurobiological correlates of depression. The present review provides an overview of functional neuroimaging studies on abnormal facial emotion processing in major depression. Our main objective was to describe neurobiological differences between depressed patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) and healthy controls (HCs) regarding brain responsiveness to facial expressions and, furthermore, to delineate altered neural activation patterns associated with mood-congruent processing bias and to integrate these data with recent functional connectivity results. We further discuss methodological aspects potentially explaining the heterogeneity of results.
A Medline search was performed up to August 2011 in order to identify studies on emotional face processing in acutely depressed patients compared with HCs. A total of 25 studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging were reviewed.
The analysis of neural activation data showed abnormalities in MDD patients in a common face processing network, pointing to mood-congruent processing bias (hyperactivation to negative and hypoactivation to positive stimuli) particularly in the amygdala, insula, parahippocampal gyrus, fusiform face area, and putamen. Furthermore, abnormal activation patterns were repeatedly found in parts of the cingulate gyrus and the orbitofrontal cortex, which are extended by investigations implementing functional connectivity analysis. However, despite several converging findings, some inconsistencies are observed, particularly in prefrontal areas, probably caused by heterogeneities in paradigms and patient samples.
Further studies in remitted patients and high-risk samples are required to discern whether the described abnormalities represent state or trait characteristics of depression.
PMCID: PMC3384264  PMID: 22738433
Facial emotion processing; fMRI; neuroimaging; depression; emotion; amygdala; anterior cingulate; orbitofrontal cortex; functional connectivity
6.  An fMRI study of unconditioned responses in post-traumatic stress disorder 
Both fear and pain processing are altered in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as evidenced by functional neuroimaging studies showing increased amygdala responses to threats, and increased insula, putamen and caudate activity in response to heat pain. Using psychophysiology and functional magnetic resonance imaging, we studied conditioned and unconditioned autonomic and neuronal responses in subjects with PTSD versus trauma-exposed non-PTSD control (TENC) subjects. A design using an electric shock selected by subjects to be 'highly annoying but not painful' as an unconditioned stimulus (US) with partially reinforced cues allowed us to partly disentangle the expectancy- and prediction-error components from sensory components of the unconditioned response.
Whereas responses to the conditioned stimulus (CS) were similar in PTSD and TENC, the former displayed higher putamen, insula, caudate and amygdala responses to the US. Reactivity to the US in the anterior insula correlated with PTSD symptom severity. Functional connectivity analyses using the putamen as a seed region indicated that TENC subjects had increased amygdala-putamen connectivity during US delivery; this connection was disengaged in PTSD.
Our results indicate that although neural processing of fear learning in people with PTSD seems to be comparable with controls, neural responses to unconditioned aversive stimuli in PTSD seem to be increased.
PMCID: PMC3384234  PMID: 22738227
7.  Altered amygdala activation during face processing in Iraqi and Afghanistani war veterans 
Exposure to combat can have a significant impact across a wide array of domains, and may manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating mental illness that is associated with neural and affective sequelae. This study tested the hypothesis that combat-exposed individuals with and without PTSD, relative to healthy control subjects with no history of PTSD or combat exposure, would show amygdala hyperactivity during performance of a well-validated face processing task. We further hypothesized that differences in the prefrontal cortex would best differentiate the combat-exposed groups with and without PTSD.
Twelve men with PTSD related to combat in Operations Enduring Freedom and/or Iraqi Freedom, 12 male combat-exposed control patients with a history of Operations Enduring Freedom and/or Iraqi Freedom combat exposure but no history of PTSD, and 12 healthy control male patients with no history of combat exposure or PTSD completed a face-matching task during functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The PTSD group showed greater amygdala activation to fearful versus happy faces than both the combat-exposed control and healthy control groups. Both the PTSD and the combat-exposed control groups showed greater amygdala activation to all faces versus shapes relative to the healthy control group. However, the combat-exposed control group relative to the PTSD group showed greater prefrontal/parietal connectivity with the amygdala, while the PTSD group showed greater connectivity with the subgenual cingulate. The strength of connectivity in the PTSD group was inversely related to avoidance scores.
These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that PTSD is associated with a deficiency in top-down modulation of amygdala activation by the prefrontal cortex and shows specific sensitivity to fearful faces.
PMCID: PMC3384263  PMID: 22738183

Results 1-7 (7)