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J Affect Disord. 2011 Nov;134(1-3):315-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2011.06.003. Epub 2011 Jun 25.

Structural correlates of trait anxiety: reduced thickness in medial orbitofrontal cortex accompanied by volume increase in nucleus accumbens.

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  • 1Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent Institute for Functional and Metabolic Imaging, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Gent, Belgium.


Structural deficiencies within the medial prefrontal cortex have been shown in anxiety-related psychiatric disorders such as panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. In healthy subjects, trait anxiety as the individual's disposition to experience anxiety-relevant feelings or thoughts has been shown to be a risk factor for psychiatric disorders. We aimed at exploring the structural correlates of trait anxiety in normal participants. We acquired high-resolution MRI scans from 34 subjects and used FreeSurfer to obtain a measure of cortical thickness. We correlated cortical thickness with self-rated trait anxiety in a whole brain analysis. Automatic subcortical segmentations of the FreeSurfer pipeline were used to relate nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and amygdala volume to trait anxiety. Trait anxiety was negatively correlated with cortical thickness in the right medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) and positively correlated with the bilateral volume of NAcc. Cortical thickness measures extracted from mOFC were negatively associated with the volume of left NAcc. Since, like in anxiety-related psychiatric disorders, in the healthy sample studied here, trait anxiety was associated with a reduction of cortical thickness in mOFC we suggest that this thinning is a structural precondition rather than a consequence of psychiatric illnesses.

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