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Anxious temperament (AT) in human and non-human primates is a trait-like phenotype evident early in life that is characterized by increased behavioural and physiological reactivity to mildly threatening stimuli. Studies in children demonstrate that AT is an important risk factor for the later development of anxiety disorders, depression and comorbid substance abuse. Despite its importance as an early predictor of psychopathology, little is known about the factors that predispose vulnerable children to develop AT and the brain systems that underlie its expression. To characterize the neural circuitry associated with AT and the extent to which the function of this circuit is heritable, we studied a large sample of rhesus monkeys phenotyped for AT. Using 238 young monkeys from a multigenerational single-family pedigree, we simultaneously assessed brain metabolic activity and AT while monkeys were exposed to the relevant ethological condition that elicits the phenotype. High-resolution (18)F-labelled deoxyglucose positron-emission tomography (FDG-PET) was selected as the imaging modality because it provides semi-quantitative indices of absolute glucose metabolic rate, allows for simultaneous measurement of behaviour and brain activity, and has a time course suited for assessing temperament-associated sustained brain responses. Here we demonstrate that the central nucleus region of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus are key components of the neural circuit predictive of AT. We also show significant heritability of the AT phenotype by using quantitative genetic analysis. Additionally, using voxelwise analyses, we reveal significant heritability of metabolic activity in AT-associated hippocampal regions. However, activity in the amygdala region predictive of AT is not significantly heritable. Furthermore, the heritabilities of the hippocampal and amygdala regions significantly differ from each other. Even though these structures are closely linked, the results suggest differential influences of genes and environment on how these brain regions mediate AT and the ongoing risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Functional MRI resting state and connectivity studies of brain focus on neural fluctuations at low frequencies which share power with physiological fluctuations originating from lung and heart. Due to the lack of automated software to process physiological signals collected at high magnetic fields, a gap exists in the processing pathway between the acquisition of physiological data and its use in fMRI software for both physiological noise correction and functional analyses of brain activation and connectivity. To fill this gap, we developed an open source, physiological signal processing program, called PhysioNoise, in the python language. We tested its automated processing algorithms and dynamic signal visualization on resting monkey cardiac and respiratory waveforms. PhysioNoise consistently identifies physiological fluctuations for fMRI noise correction and also generates covariates for subsequent analyses of brain activation and connectivity.
Background A key to successful adaptation is the ability to regulate emotional responses in relation to changing environmental demands or contexts. Methods High-resolution PET 18fluoro-deoxyglucose (FDG) scanning in rhesus monkeys was performed during two contexts (alone, and human intruder with no eye contact) during which the duration of anxiety related freezing behavior was assessed. Correlations between individual differences in freezing duration and brain activity were performed for each of the two conditions, as well as for the contextual regulation between the two conditions. Results In both conditions, activity in the basal forebrain, including the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and the nucleus accumbens were correlated with individual differences in freezing duration. In contrast, individual differences in the ability to regulate freezing behavior between contexts were correlated with activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the thalamus and the dorsal raphe nucleus. Conclusions These findings demonstrate differences in the neural circuitry mediating the expression compared to the contextual regulation of freezing behavior. These findings are relevant since altered regulatory processes may underlie anxiety disorders.
In primates, during times of need, calling for help is a universal experience. Calling for help recruits social support and promotes survival. However, calling for help also can attract predators, and it is adaptive to inhibit calls for help when a potential threat is perceived. Based on this, we hypothesized that individual differences in calling for help would be related to the activity of brain systems that mediate goal-directed behavior and the detection of threat. By using high-resolution positron emission tomography in rhesus monkeys undergoing social separation, we demonstrate that increased [18F]-fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose uptake in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreased uptake in the amygdala independently predict individual differences in calling for help. When taken together, these two regions account for 76% of the variance in calling for help. This result suggests that the drive for affiliation and the perception of threat determine the intensity of an individual's behavior during separation. These findings in monkeys are relevant to humans and provide a conceptual neural framework to understand individual differences in how primates behave when in need of social support.
Children with anxious temperament (AT) are particularly sensitive to new social experiences and have increased risk for developing anxiety and depression. The young rhesus monkey is optimal for studying the origin of human AT because it shares with humans the genetic, neural, and phenotypic underpinnings of complex social and emotional functioning. In vivo imaging in young monkeys demonstrated that central nucleus of the amygdala (Ce) metabolism is relatively stable across development and predicts AT. Transcriptome-wide gene expression, which reflects combined genetic and environmental influences, was assessed within the Ce. Results support a maladaptive neurodevelopmental hypothesis linking decreased amygdala neuroplasticity to early-life dispositional anxiety. For example, high AT individuals had decreased mRNA expression of neurotrophic tyrosine kinase, receptor, type 3 (NTRK3). Moreover, variation in Ce NTRK3 expression was inversely correlated with Ce metabolism and other AT-substrates. These data suggest that altered amygdala neuroplasticity may play a role the early dispositional risk to develop anxiety and depression.
Neuroanatomists posit that the central nucleus of the amygdala (Ce) and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) comprise two major nodes of a macrostructural forebrain entity termed the extended amygdala. The extended amygdala is thought to play a critical role in adaptive motivational behavior and is implicated in the pathophysiology of maladaptive fear and anxiety. Resting functional connectivity of the Ce was examined in 107 young anesthetized rhesus monkeys and 105 young humans using standard resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to assess temporal correlations across the brain. The data expand the neuroanatomical concept of the extended amygdala by finding, in both species, highly significant functional coupling between the Ce and the BST. These results support the use of in vivo functional imaging methods in nonhuman and human primates to probe the functional anatomy of major brain networks such as the extended amygdala.
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.
BACKGROUND: Anxious temperament (AT) is identifiable early in life and predicts the later development of anxiety disorders and depression. Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a putative endogenous anxiolytic neurotransmitter that adaptively regulates responses to stress and might confer resilience to stress-related psychopathology. With a well-validated nonhuman primate model of AT, we examined expression of the NPY system in the central nucleus (Ce) of the amygdala, a critical neural substrate for extreme anxiety. METHODS: In 24 young rhesus monkeys, we measured Ce messenger RNA (mRNA) levels of all members of the NPY system that are detectable in the Ce with quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction. We then examined the relationship between these mRNA levels and both AT expression and brain metabolism. RESULTS: Lower mRNA levels of neuropeptide Y receptor 1 (NPY1R) and NPY5R but not NPY or NPY2R in the Ce predicted elevated AT; mRNA levels for NPY1R and NPY5R in the motor cortex were not related to AT. In situ hybridization analysis provided for the first time a detailed description of NPY1R and NPY5R mRNA distribution in the rhesus amygdala and associated regions. Lastly, mRNA levels for these two receptors in the Ce predicted metabolic activity in several regions that have the capacity to regulate the Ce. CONCLUSIONS: Decreased NPY signaling in the Ce might contribute to the altered metabolic activity that is a component of the neural substrate underlying AT. This suggests that enhancement of NPY signaling might reduce the risk to develop psychopathology.
In children, behavioral inhibition (BI) in response to potential threat predicts the development of anxiety and affective disorders, and primate lesion studies suggest involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in mediating BI. Lesion studies are essential for establishing causality in brain-behavior relationships, but should be interpreted cautiously because the impact of a discrete lesion on a complex neural circuit extends beyond the lesion location. Complementary functional imaging methods assessing how lesions influence other parts of the circuit can aid in precisely understanding how lesions affect behavior. Using this combination of approaches in monkeys, we found that OFC lesions concomitantly alter BI and metabolism in the bed nucleus of stria terminalis (BNST) region and that individual differences in BNST activity predict BI. Thus it appears that an important function of the OFC in response to threat is to modulate the BNST, which may more directly influence the expression of BI.
Numerous studies demonstrate that the rhesus monkey is an excellent species with which to investigate mechanisms underlying human emotion and psychopathology. To examine the role of the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) in mediating the behavioral and physiological responses associated with fear and anxiety, we used rhesus monkeys to assess the effects of excitotoxic lesions of the CeA. Behavioral and physiological responses of nine monkeys with bilateral CeA destruction (ranging from 46 to 98%) were compared with five animals with asymmetric lesions (42-86.5% destruction on the most affected side) and with 16 unoperated controls. Results suggest that similar to rodent species, the primate CeA plays a role in mediating fear- and anxiety-related behavioral and endocrine responses. Compared with controls and the asymmetric-lesion group, bilaterally lesioned monkeys displayed significantly less fear-related behavior when exposed to a snake and less freezing behavior when confronted by a human intruder. In addition, bilaterally lesioned monkeys had decreased levels of CSF corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF), and both lesioned groups had decreased plasma ACTH concentrations. In contrast to these findings, patterns of asymmetric frontal brain electrical activity, as assessed by regional scalp EEG, did not significantly differ between control and lesioned monkeys. These findings suggest that in primates, the CeA is involved in mediating fear- and anxiety-related behavioral and pituitary-adrenal responses as well as in modulating brain CRF activity.
BACKGROUND: Excessive behavioral inhibition during childhood marks anxious temperament and is a risk factor for the development of anxiety and affective disorders. Studies in nonhuman primates can provide important information related to the expression of this risk factor, since threat-induced freezing in rhesus monkeys is a trait-like characteristic analogous to human behavioral inhibition. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and amygdala are part of a circuit involved in the processing of emotions and associated physiological responses. Earlier work demonstrated involvement of the primate central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) in mediating anxious temperament. This study assessed the role of the primate OFC in mediating anxious temperament and its involvement in fear responses. METHODS: Twelve adolescent rhesus monkeys were studied (six lesion and six control monkeys). Lesions were targeted at regions of the OFC that are most interconnected with the amygdala. Behavior and physiological parameters were assessed before and after the lesions. RESULTS: The OFC lesions significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake. The lesions also resulted in a leftward shift in frontal brain electrical activity consistent with a reduction in anxiety. The lesions did not significantly decrease hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate a role for the OFC in mediating anxious temperament and fear-related responses in adolescent primates. Because of the similarities between rhesus monkey threat-induced freezing and childhood behavioral inhibition, these findings are relevant to understanding mechanisms underlying anxious temperament in humans.
The serotonin transporter (5-HTT) plays a critical role in regulating serotonergic neurotransmission and is implicated in the pathophysiology of anxiety and affective disorders. Positron emission tomography scans using [(11)C]DASB [(11)C]-3-amino-4-(2-dimethylaminomethylphenylsulfanyl)-benzonitrile] to measure 5-HTT availability (an index of receptor density and binding) were performed in 34 rhesus monkeys in which the relationship between regional brain glucose metabolism and anxious temperament was previously established. 5-HTT availability in the amygdalohippocampal area and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis correlated positively with individual differences in a behavioral and neuroendocrine composite of anxious temperament. 5-HTT availability also correlated positively with stress-induced metabolic activity within these regions. Collectively, these findings suggest that serotonergic modulation of neuronal excitability in the neural circuitry associated with anxiety mediates the developmental risk for affect-related psychopathology.
BACKGROUND: Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system activation is adaptive in response to stress, and HPA dysregulation occurs in stress-related psychopathology. It is important to understand the mechanisms that modulate HPA output, yet few studies have addressed the neural circuitry associated with HPA regulation in primates and humans. Using high-resolution F-18-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in rhesus monkeys, we assessed the relation between individual differences in brain activity and HPA function across multiple contexts that varied in stressfulness. METHODS: Using a logical AND conjunctions analysis, we assessed cortisol and brain metabolic activity with FDG-PET in 35 adolescent rhesus monkeys exposed to two threat and two home-cage conditions. To test the robustness of our findings, we used similar methods in an archival data set. In this data set, brain metabolic activity and cortisol were assessed in 17 adolescent male rhesus monkeys that were exposed to three stress-related contexts. RESULTS: Results from the two studies revealed that subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC) metabolism (Brodmann's area 25/24) consistently predicted individual differences in plasma cortisol concentrations regardless of the context in which brain activity and cortisol were assessed. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that activation in subgenual PFC may be related to HPA output across a variety of contexts (including familiar settings and novel or threatening situations). Individuals prone to elevated subgenual PFC activity across multiple contexts may be individuals who consistently show heightened cortisol and may be at risk for stress-related HPA dysregulation.
Early theorists (Freud and Darwin) speculated that extremely shy children, or those with anxious temperament, were likely to have anxiety problems as adults. More recent studies demonstrate that these children have heightened responses to potentially threatening situations reacting with intense defensive responses that are characterized by behavioral inhibition (BI) (inhibited motor behavior and decreased vocalizations) and physiological arousal. Confirming the earlier impressions, data now demonstrate that children with this disposition are at increased risk to develop anxiety, depression, and comorbid substance abuse. Additional key features of anxious temperament are that it appears at a young age, it is a stable characteristic of individuals, and even in non-threatening environments it is associated with increased psychic anxiety and somatic tension. To understand the neural underpinnings of anxious temperament, we performed imaging studies with 18-fluoro-deoxyglucose (FDG) high-resolution Positron Emission Tomography (PET) in young rhesus monkeys. Rhesus monkeys were used because they provide a well validated model of anxious temperament for studies that cannot be performed in human children. Imaging the same animal in stressful and secure contexts, we examined the relation between regional metabolic brain activity and a trait-like measure of anxious temperament that encompasses measures of BI and pituitary-adrenal reactivity. Regardless of context, results demonstrated a trait-like pattern of brain activity (amygdala, bed nucleus of stria terminalis, hippocampus, and periaqueductal gray) that is predictive of individual phenotypic differences. Importantly, individuals with extreme anxious temperament also displayed increased activity of this circuit when assessed in the security of their home environment. These findings suggest that increased activity of this circuit early in life mediates the childhood temperamental risk to develop anxiety and depression. In addition, the findings provide an explanation for why individuals with anxious temperament have difficulty relaxing in environments that others perceive as non-stressful.