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Neuropsychologia. 2015 Dec;79(Pt A):1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.10.015. Epub 2015 Oct 23.

Amygdala responses to salient social cues vary with oxytocin receptor genotype in youth.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University School of Medicine, USA; Merill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development, Wayne State University, 71 E Ferry Street, Dertroit, MI 48202, USA.
2
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, USA.
3
Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine, USA.
4
Department of Neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.
5
Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California, USA; Signal and Image Processing Institute, University of Southern California, USA.
6
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, USA; Sierra-Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC), Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, USA.
7
Merill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development, Wayne State University, 71 E Ferry Street, Dertroit, MI 48202, USA; Department of Pediatrics, Wayne State University School of Medicine, USA. Electronic address: moriah@wayne.edu.

Abstract

Depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder are linked to altered limbic morphology, dysregulated neuroendocrine function, and heightened amygdala responses to salient social cues. Oxytocin appears to be a potent modulator of amygdala reactivity and neuroendocrine responses to psychosocial stress. Given these stress regulatory effects, there is increasing interest in understanding the role of oxytocin in vulnerability to stress-related clinical disorders. The present study examines the impact of a common functional variant within the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene (rs2254298) on structure and function of the amygdala in a high-risk sample of urban, low-income, minority youth with a high incidence of early life stress (ELS). Compared to G/G homozygotes, youth carrying the OXTR A-allele showed increased amygdala volume, reduced behavioral performance, and heightened amygdala response during two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tasks that involved viewing socially-relevant face stimuli. Higher amygdala response was related to ELS in A-allele carriers but not G/G homozygotes. These findings underscore a series of relations among a common oxytocin system gene variant, ELS exposure, and structure and function of the amygdala in early life. Heightened amygdala response to salient social cues in OXTR A-allele carriers may elevate risk for emotional psychopathology by increasing amygdala involvement in disambiguating environmental cues, particularly for individuals with ELS.

KEYWORDS:

Depression; Early stress; Genetics; Limbic; Stroop

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