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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Aug;38(8):1338-48. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.11.021. Epub 2012 Dec 29.

Resting state functional MRI connectivity predicts hypothalamus-pituitary-axis status in healthy males.

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Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Neuroimaging Research Group, Munich, Germany.


Homeostasis of the human stress response system is critically maintained by a hierarchical system of neural and endocrine elements for which intact negative feedback is important to prevent maladaptation towards stress. Such feedback is efficiently probed by the established combined dexamethasone-suppression/corticotropin-releasing hormone stimulation (dex/CRH) test. Here we investigate which suprahypothalamic networks might modulate the response assessed by this neuroendocrine test. Combined resting state fMRI (rs-fMRI)/EEG was acquired in 20 healthy male volunteers along with dex/CRH profiles obtained on a different day outside the scanner. Seed-based network analysis and inter-seed cross correlation analysis for selected atlas-based limbic, paralimbic and medial prefrontal cortex seeds were correlated with stimulated cortisol and adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) concentrations. Lower connectivity between a left hippocampus-based network and the right hippocampus significantly predicted stimulated cortisol concentration (R(2)=0.70, corrected pcluster=0.001). Six further significantly negative correlations were detected mainly in the left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The strongest positive correlation with stimulated hormone concentration was detected for the left subcallosal ACC (ACTH, R(2)=0.57, corrected pcluster=0.009). Inter-seed connectivity mainly pointed to hippocampal/amygdala interactions as correlates of the dex/CRH response. In conclusion, resting state functional connectivity patterns of limbic, particularly hippocampal, as well as cingulate and medial prefrontal areas can explain some of the variance of the dex/CRH test in healthy subjects. Functional connectivity analysis can be considered useful to study supra-hypothalamic control systems of the HPA axis.

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