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Neuropsychologia. 2007 May 15;45(9):2104-13. Epub 2007 Feb 3.

Amygdala function in adolescents with congenital adrenal hyperplasia: a model for the study of early steroid abnormalities.

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1
Emotional Development and Affective Neuroscience Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, MD 20892-2670, USA. ernstm@mail.nih.gov

Abstract

Early disruption of steroids affects the development of mammalian neural circuits underlying affective processes. In humans, patients with classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) can serve as a natural model to study early hormonal alterations on functional brain development. CAH is characterized by congenital glucocorticoid insufficiency, leading to altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function, and hyperandrogenism. Using fMRI, we compared fourteen adolescents with CAH to 14 healthy controls on amygdala response to a face viewing task. In response to negative facial emotions, CAH females activated the amygdala significantly more than healthy females, whereas CAH males did not differ from control males. Furthermore, females with CAH showed a similar pattern of amygdala activation to control males, suggesting virilized amygdala function in females with CAH. These findings suggest a prominent effect of early hyperandrogenism on the development and function of the amygdala in females with CAH, whereas no effects were detected in males with CAH. This study provides data that can be further tested in a model of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying early androgen organizational effects on amygdala function.

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