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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Apr 9;110(15):6145-50. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1214364110. Epub 2013 Mar 28.

Neural mechanisms underlying heterogeneity in the presentation of anxious temperament.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53719, USA.


Children with an anxious temperament (AT) are at risk for developing psychiatric disorders along the internalizing spectrum, including anxiety and depression. Like these disorders, AT is a multidimensional phenotype and children with extreme anxiety show varying mixtures of physiological, behavioral, and other symptoms. Using a well-validated juvenile monkey model of AT, we addressed the degree to which this phenotypic heterogeneity reflects fundamental differences or similarities in the underlying neurobiology. The rhesus macaque is optimal for studying AT because children and young monkeys express the anxious phenotype in similar ways and have similar neurobiology. Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in 238 freely behaving monkeys identified brain regions where metabolism predicted variation in three dimensions of the AT phenotype: hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity, freezing behavior, and expressive vocalizations. We distinguished brain regions that predicted all three dimensions of the phenotype from those that selectively predicted a single dimension. Elevated activity in the central nucleus of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus was consistently found across individuals with different presentations of AT. In contrast, elevated activity in the lateral anterior hippocampus was selective to individuals with high levels of HPA activity, and decreased activity in the motor cortex (M1) was selective to those with high levels of freezing behavior. Furthermore, activity in these phenotype-selective regions mediated relations between amygdala metabolism and different expressions of anxiety. These findings provide a framework for understanding the mechanisms that lead to heterogeneity in the clinical presentation of internalizing disorders and set the stage for developing improved interventions.

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