Richie Davidson, PhD

Slide of the Week: Richie Davidson, PhD

Title: Enhanced Prefrontal-Amygdala Connectivity Following Childhood Adversity as a Protective Mechanism Against Internalizing in Adolescence

Legend: Childhood adversity predicts greater amygdala–medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) functional connectivity (FC) in adolescence, but it is moderated by internalizing (Int) symptoms. Functional connectivity estimates were derived from the negative vs. neutral  image contrast, using a seed-based approach. The seed region and connectivity results are shown on the left, with scatterplots of childhood adversity (Z-scored) vs. functional connectivity cluster averages in the middle  panel. (A) Main effect of childhood adversity on amygdala-mPFC connectivity (k=699 voxels, p<.05 corrected). (B) Childhood adversity by adolescent internalizing interaction in an overlapping cluster revealed that  childhood adversity predicts greater amygdala–dorsomedial PFC connectivity in lower, but not higher, internalizing adolescents (k= 333 voxels,  p<.05 corrected). The middle panel  shows a scatterplot depicting the interaction, with trend lines shown for childhood adversity vs. functional connectivity at adolescent internalizing Z scores <0.5 or >0.5 (i.e., +0.5 SD). The points and lines are color coded for internalizing levels. The dashed line represents the average effect across all participants. The right panel shows a conditional effects plot demonstrating the effect of childhood adversity on amygdala-mPFC connectivity across the full range of internalizing levels. Childhood adversity predicted significantly greater amygdala-mPFC connectivity only in adolescents with internalizing Z scores <0.25 (vertical dashed line). N=132. L, left; R, right.

Citation: Ryan J. Herringa, Cory A. Burghy, Diane E. Stodola, Michelle E. Fox, Richard J. Davidson, and Marilyn J. Essex. (2016). Enhanced Prefrontal-Amygdala Connectivity Following Childhood Adversity as a Protective Mechanism Against Internalizing in Adolescence. Brain Connectivity and Development, 1(4): 326–334.

Abstract: Background: Much research has focused on the deleterious neurobiological effects of childhood adversity that may underlie internalizing disorders. Although most youth show emotional adaptation following adversity, the corresponding neural mechanisms remain poorly understood. Methods: In this longitudinal community study, we examined the associations among childhood family adversity, adolescent internalizing symptoms, and their interaction on regional brain activation and amygdala/hippocampus functional connectivity during emotion processing in 132 adolescents. Results: Consistent with prior work, childhood adversity predicted heightened amygdala reactivity to negative, but not positive, images in adolescence. However, amygdala reactivity was not related to internalizing symptoms. Furthermore, childhood adversity predicted increased prefrontal-amygdala connectivity to negative, but not positive, images, yet only in lower internalizing adolescents. Childhood adversity also predicted increased prefrontal-hippocampus connectivity to negative images but was not moderated by internalizing. These findings were unrelated to adolescent adversity or externalizing symptoms, suggesting specificity to childhood adversity and adolescent internalizing. Conclusions: Together, these findings suggest that adaptation to childhood adversity is associated with augmentation of prefrontal-subcortical circuits specifically for negative emotional stimuli. Conversely, insufficient enhancement of prefrontal-amygdala connectivity, with increasing amygdala reactivity, may represent a neural signature of vulnerability for internalizing by late adolescence. These findings implicate early childhood as a critical period in determining the brain’s adaptation to adversity and suggest that even normative adverse experiences can have a significant impact on neurodevelopment and functioning. These results offer potential neural mechanisms of adaptation and vulnerability that could be used in the prediction of risk for psychopathology following childhood adversity.

About the Lab: Research in Davidson’s laboratory is focused on the neural bases of disordered and healthy emotion and emotional style and methods to promote human flourishing including meditation and related contemplative practices. His studies have included persons of all ages from birth though old age and have also included individuals with disorders of emotion such as mood and anxiety disorders and autism, as well as expert meditation practitioners with tens of thousands of hours of experience. His research uses a wide range of methods including different varieties of MRI, positron emission tomography, electroencephalography and modern genetic and epigenetic methods.

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