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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2015 Feb;10(2):278-84. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu055. Epub 2014 Apr 20.

Are you gonna leave me? Separation anxiety is associated with increased amygdala responsiveness and volume.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G 9A, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychology, University of Muenster, Fliednerstr. 21, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G A1, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Leipzig, Semmelweisstraße 10, 04103 Leipzig, Germany, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Marburg, Rudolf-Bultmann-Straße 8, 35039 Marburg, Germany.
2
Department of Psychiatry, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G 9A, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychology, University of Muenster, Fliednerstr. 21, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G A1, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Leipzig, Semmelweisstraße 10, 04103 Leipzig, Germany, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Marburg, Rudolf-Bultmann-Straße 8, 35039 Marburg, Germany Department of Psychiatry, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G 9A, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychology, University of Muenster, Fliednerstr. 21, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G A1, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Leipzig, Semmelweisstraße 10, 04103 Leipzig, Germany, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Marburg, Rudolf-Bultmann-Straße 8, 35039 Marburg, Germany.
3
Department of Psychiatry, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G 9A, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychology, University of Muenster, Fliednerstr. 21, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G A1, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Leipzig, Semmelweisstraße 10, 04103 Leipzig, Germany, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Marburg, Rudolf-Bultmann-Straße 8, 35039 Marburg, Germany Department of Psychiatry, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G 9A, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychology, University of Muenster, Fliednerstr. 21, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Clinical Radiology, University of Muenster, Albert Schweizer-Campus 1, G A1, 48149 Muenster, Germany, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Leipzig, Semmelweisstraße 10, 04103 Leipzig, Germany, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Marburg, Rudolf-Bultmann-Straße 8, 35039 Marburg, Germany dannlow@uni-muenster.de.

Abstract

The core feature of separation anxiety is excessive distress when faced with actual or perceived separation from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment. So far little is known about the neurobiological underpinnings of separation anxiety. Therefore, we investigated functional (amygdala responsiveness and functional connectivity during threat-related emotion processing) and structural (grey matter volume) imaging markers associated with separation anxiety as measured with the Relationship Scale Questionnaire in a large sample of healthy adults from the Münster Neuroimaging Cohort (N = 320). We used a robust emotional face-matching task and acquired high-resolution structural images for morphometric analyses using voxel-based morphometry. The main results were positive associations of separation anxiety scores with amygdala reactivity to emotional faces as well as increased amygdala grey matter volumes. A functional connectivity analysis revealed positive associations between separation anxiety and functional coupling of the amygdala with areas involved in visual processes and attention, including several occipital and somatosensory areas. Taken together, the results suggest a higher emotional involvement in subjects with separation anxiety while watching negative facial expressions, and potentially secondary neuro-structural adaptive processes. These results could help to understand and treat (adult) separation anxiety.

KEYWORDS:

adult separation anxiety; amygdala; fMRI; voxel-based morphometry

PMID:
24752071
PMCID:
PMC4321627
DOI:
10.1093/scan/nsu055
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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