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Hum Brain Mapp. 2015 Apr;36(4):1417-28. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22712. Epub 2014 Dec 30.

Amygdala subnuclei connectivity in response to violence reveals unique influences of individual differences in psychopathic traits in a nonforensic sample.

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Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.


Atypical amygdala function and connectivity have reliably been associated with psychopathy. However, the amygdala is not a unitary structure. To examine how psychopathic traits in a nonforensic sample are linked to amygdala response to violence, this study used probabilistic tractography to classify amygdala subnuclei based on anatomical projections to and from amygdala subnuclei in a group of 43 male participants. The segmentation identified the basolateral complex (BLA; lateral, basal, and accessory basal subnuclei) and the central subnucleus (CE), which were used as seeds in a functional connectivity analysis to identify differences in neuronal coupling specific to observed violence. While a full amygdala seed showed significant connectivity only to right middle occipital gyrus, subnuclei seeds revealed unique connectivity patterns. BLA showed enhanced coupling with anterior cingulate and prefrontal regions, while CE showed increased connectivity with the brainstem, but reduced connectivity with superior parietal and precentral gyrus. Further, psychopathic personality factors were related to specific patterns of connectivity. Fearless Dominance scores on the psychopathic personality inventory predicted increased coupling between the BLA seed and sensory integration cortices, and increased connectivity between the CE seed and posterior insula. Conversely, Self-Centered Impulsivity scores were negatively correlated with coupling between BLA and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, and Coldheartedness scores predicted increased functional connectivity between BLA and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Taken together, these findings demonstrate how subnuclei segmentations reveal important functional connectivity differences that are otherwise inaccessible. Such an approach yields a better understanding of amygdala dysfunction in psychopathy.


amygdala; cognition; diffusion tensor imaging; diffusion weighted MRI; fMRI; neuroimaging; psychopathy; violence

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