Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis genetic variation and early stress moderates amygdala function.
ABSTRACT: Early life stress may precipitate psychopathology, at least in part, by influencing amygdala function. Converging evidence across species suggests that links between childhood stress and amygdala function may be dependent upon hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. Using data from college-attending non-Hispanic European-Americans (n=308) who completed the Duke Neurogenetics Study, we examined whether early life stress (ELS) and HPA axis genetic variation interact to predict threat-related amygdala function as well as psychopathology symptoms. A biologically-informed multilocus profile score (BIMPS) captured HPA axis genetic variation (FKBP5 rs1360780, CRHR1 rs110402; NR3C2 rs5522/rs4635799) previously associated with its function (higher BIMPS are reflective of higher HPA axis activity). BOLD fMRI data were acquired while participants completed an emotional face matching task. ELS and depression and anxiety symptoms were measured using the childhood trauma questionnaire and the mood and anxiety symptom questionnaire, respectively. The interaction between HPA axis BIMPS and ELS was associated with right amygdala reactivity to threat-related stimuli, after accounting for multiple testing (empirical-p=0.016). Among individuals with higher BIMPS (i.e., the upper 21.4%), ELS was positively coupled with threat-related amygdala reactivity, which was absent among those with average or low BIMPS. Further, higher BIMPS were associated with greater self-reported anxious arousal, though there was no evidence that amygdala function mediated this relationship. Polygenic variation linked to HPA axis function may moderate the effects of early life stress on threat-related amygdala function and confer risk for anxiety symptomatology. However, what, if any, neural mechanisms may mediate the relationship between HPA axis BIMPS and anxiety symptomatology remains unclear.
Project description:Early life stress (ELS) and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis predict later psychopathology. Animal studies and cross-sectional human studies suggest that this process might operate through amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) circuitry implicated in the regulation of emotion. Here we prospectively investigated the roles of ELS and childhood basal cortisol amounts in the development of adolescent resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC), assessed by functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), in the amygdala-PFC circuit. In females only, greater ELS predicted increased childhood cortisol levels, which predicted decreased amygdala-vmPFC rs-FC 14 years later. For females, adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity was inversely correlated with concurrent anxiety symptoms but positively associated with depressive symptoms, suggesting differing pathways from childhood cortisol levels function through adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity to anxiety and depression. These data highlight that, for females, the effects of ELS and early HPA-axis function may be detected much later in the intrinsic processing of emotion-related brain circuits.
Project description:Exposure to stress during critical periods in development can have severe long-term consequences, increasing overall risk on psychopathology. One of the key stress response systems mediating these long-term effects of stress is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis; a cascade of central and peripheral events resulting in the release of corticosteroids from the adrenal glands. Activation of the HPA-axis affects brain functioning to ensure a proper behavioral response to the stressor, but stress-induced (mal)adaptation of the HPA-axis' functional maturation may provide a mechanistic basis for the altered stress susceptibility later in life. Development of the HPA-axis and the brain regions involved in its regulation starts prenatally and continues after birth, and is protected by several mechanisms preventing corticosteroid over-exposure to the maturing brain. Nevertheless, early life stress (ELS) exposure has been reported to have numerous consequences on HPA-axis function in adulthood, affecting both its basal and stress-induced activity. According to the match/mismatch theory, encountering ELS prepares an organism for similar ("matching") adversities during adulthood, while a mismatching environment results in an increased susceptibility to psychopathology, indicating that ELS can exert either beneficial or disadvantageous effects depending on the environmental context. Here, we review studies investigating the mechanistic underpinnings of the ELS-induced alterations in the structural and functional development of the HPA-axis and its key external regulators (amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex). The effects of ELS appear highly dependent on the developmental time window affected, the sex of the offspring, and the developmental stage at which effects are assessed. Albeit by distinct mechanisms, ELS induced by prenatal stressors, maternal separation, or the limited nesting model inducing fragmented maternal care, typically results in HPA-axis hyper-reactivity in adulthood, as also found in major depression. This hyper-activity is related to increased corticotrophin-releasing hormone signaling and impaired glucocorticoid receptor-mediated negative feedback. In contrast, initial evidence for HPA-axis hypo-reactivity is observed for early social deprivation, potentially reflecting the abnormal HPA-axis function as observed in post-traumatic stress disorder, and future studies should investigate its neural/neuroendocrine foundation in further detail. Interestingly, experiencing additional (chronic) stress in adulthood seems to normalize these alterations in HPA-axis function, supporting the match/mismatch theory.
Project description:Early life stress (ELS) is considered a major risk factor for developing psychopathology. Increasing evidence points towards sex-dependent dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis as a contributing mechanism. Additionally, clinical studies suggest that the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) may further confer genetic vulnerability/resilience on a background of ELS. The link between ELS, sex and the HPA axis and how this interacts with MR genotype is understudied, yet important to understand vulnerability/resilience to stress. We used the early life-limited nesting and bedding model to test the effect of ELS on HPA properties in adult female and male mice carrying a forebrain-specific heterozygous knockout for MR. Basal HPA axis activity was measured by circadian peak and nadir corticosterone levels, in addition to body weight and weight of stress-sensitive tissues. HPA axis reactivity was assessed by mapping corticosterone levels after 10 min immobilization. Additionally, we measured the effects of ELS on steroid receptor [MR and glucocorticoid receptor (GR)] levels in the dorsal hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) with western blot. Finally, behavioral reactivity towards a novel environment was measured as a proxy for anxiety-like behavior. Results show that HPA axis activity under rest conditions was not affected by ELS. HPA axis reactivity after immobilization was decreased by ELS in females and increased, at trend-level in males. This effect in females was further exacerbated by low expression of the MR. We also observed a sex*ELS interaction regarding MR and GR expression in the dorsal hippocampus, with a significant upregulation of MR in males only. The sex-dependent interaction with ELS was not reflected in the behavioral response to novel environment and time spent in a sheltered compartment. We did find increased locomotor activity in all groups after a history of ELS, which attenuated after 4 h in males but not females regardless of condition. Our findings support that ELS alters HPA axis functioning sex-dependently. Genetic predisposition to low MR function may render females more susceptible to the harmful effect of ELS whereas in males low MR function promotes resilience. We propose that this model may be a useful tool to investigate the underlying mechanisms of sex-dependent and genetic vulnerability/resilience to stress-related psychopathology.
Project description:Individual variation in physiological responsiveness to stress mediates risk for mental illness and is influenced by both experiential and genetic factors. Common polymorphisms in the human gene for FK506 binding protein 5 (FKBP5), which is involved in transcriptional regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, have been shown to interact with childhood abuse and trauma to predict stress-related psychopathology. In the current study, we examined if such gene-environment interaction effects may be related to variability in the threat-related reactivity of the amygdala, which plays a critical role in mediating physiological and behavioral adaptations to stress including modulation of the HPA axis. To this end, 139 healthy Caucasian youth completed a blood oxygen level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging probe of amygdala reactivity and self-report assessments of emotional neglect (EN) and other forms of maltreatment. These individuals were genotyped for 6 FKBP5 polymorphisms (rs7748266, rs1360780, rs9296158, rs3800373, rs9470080 and rs9394309) previously associated with psychopathology and/or HPA axis function. Interactions between each SNP and EN emerged such that risk alleles predicted relatively increased dorsal amygdala reactivity in the context of higher EN, even after correcting for multiple testing. Two different haplotype analyses confirmed this relationship as haplotypes with risk alleles also exhibited increased amygdala reactivity in the context of higher EN. Our results suggest that increased threat-related amygdala reactivity may represent a mechanism linking psychopathology to interactions between common genetic variants affecting HPA axis function and childhood trauma.
Project description:The amygdala is especially reactive to threatening stimuli, and the degree of reactivity predicts individual differences in the expression of depression and anxiety. Emerging research suggests that emotional neglect during childhood as well as hypercortisolemia may lead to heightened threat-related amygdala reactivity. This raises the possibility that genetic variation affecting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function contributes to individual differences in amygdala reactivity, both independently and as a function of childhood emotional neglect.This study assessed whether the mineralocorticoid receptor iso/val polymorphism (rs5522), a functional genetic variant affecting HPA axis function, influenced threat-related amygdala reactivity in 279 individuals in late childhood and early adolescence. The study also explored the extent to which any effects of the genotype on amygdala reactivity were contingent upon previous childhood emotional neglect.Prior childhood emotional neglect and the val allele were associated with greater amygdala reactivity. Moreover, a significant genotype-by-emotional neglect interaction was observed whereby greater amygdala reactivity in val allele carriers was independent of previous childhood emotional neglect, while greater reactivity in iso homozygotes was revealed only in the context of a history of elevated emotional neglect. At relatively low levels of previous emotional neglect, val carriers had heightened amygdala reactivity relative to iso homozygotes.These results suggest that relatively greater amygdala reactivity may represent a biological mechanism through which childhood adversity and functional genetic variation in HPA axis responsiveness to stress may mediate risk for psychopathology.
Project description:Early life stress (ELS) is a potent developmental disruptor and increases the risk for psychopathology. Various forms of ELS have been studied in both humans and rodents, and have been implicated in altered DNA methylation, gene transcription, stress hormone levels, and behavior. Although recent studies have focused on stress-induced epigenetic changes, the extent to which ELS alters HPA axis function and stress responsivity across generations, whether these effects are sex-specific, and how lineage interacts with upbringing to impact these effects, remain unclear. To address these points, two generations of rodents were utilized, with the first generation subjected to ELS via maternal separation, and the second to a balanced cross-fostering paradigm. We hypothesized that ELS would disrupt normative development in both generations, manifesting as altered methylation and expression of genes associated with stress signaling pathways (Nr3c1, Nr3c2, and Bdnf), blunted corticosterone (CORT), and anxiety-like behaviors. Additionally, we expected deficits in the second generation to be modulated by caretaking environment and for the pattern of results to differ between the sexes. Results suggest that direct exposure to ELS leads to sex-specific effects on gene regulation and HPA functioning in adulthood, with maternal separation leading to increases in Bdnf methylation in both sexes, decreases in Bdnf expression in females, and decreases in Nr3c1 methylation in males, as well as blunted CORT and less anxiety-like behavior in females. These alterations converged with caretaking to impart perturbations upon the subsequent generation. Across sex, ELS lineage led to decreased methylation of Nr3c1, and increased methylation of Bdnf. In fostered animals, upbringing by a previously stressed mother interacted with offspring lineage to impact methylation of Nr3c1 and Bdnf. Upbringing was also implicated in altered anxiety-like behavior in males, and baseline CORT levels in females. Such effects may correspond with observed alterations in maternal behavior across groups. In conclusion, ELS conferred enduring sex-specific alterations, both first-hand and trans-generationally via lineage and upbringing. Importantly, lineage of cross-fostered pups was sufficient to normalize or disturb maternal behavior of foster-dams, an observation requiring further elucidation. These results have implications for multi-generational effects of ELS in humans and may motivate early interventions.
Project description: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.
Project description:Behavioral inhibition (BI) is an adaptive defensive response to threat; however, extreme BI is associated with anxiety-related psychopathology. When rats are exposed to a natural predator they display stress- and anxiety-related behavioral alterations and physiological activation. To develop a preclinical rodent model to study mechanisms underlying human BI and anxiety, we examined the extent to which ferret exposure elicits anxiety-related BI and HPA and amygdala activation of the CRF system. In the first experiment, BI and other behaviors were assessed in the presence or absence of a ferret. In the second experiment, ferret-induced corticosterone release and changes in brain c-fos expression were assessed. In the final experiment, gene chip and quantitative real time-PCR analyses were performed on amygdala tissue from control and ferret-exposed rats. Ferret exposure increased BI and submissive posturing, as well as plasma corticosterone and the number of Fos-positive cells in several brain regions including the amygdala. Gene expression analysis revealed increased amygdalar mRNA for CRF-binding protein, but not the CRF1 receptor, CRF2 receptor or CRF. In rodents, ferret exposure can be used to elicit anxiety-related BI, which is associated with HPA and amygdala activation. Since the amygdala and the CRF system have been implicated in adaptive and maladaptive anxiety responses in humans, these data support use of our rodent model to further investigate mechanisms underlying anxiety-related psychopathology in humans.
Project description:Early-life stress (ELS) leads to sustained changes in gene expression and behavior, increasing the likelihood of developing a psychiatric disorder in adulthood. The neurobiological basis for the later-in-life psychopathology is relatively unknown. The current study used a mouse model of ELS, achieved by daily maternal separations during the first 2 weeks of postnatal life, to test the role of amygdalar glucocorticoid receptor (GR) function in mediating the persistent increase in risk-taking behaviors. ELS produced a decrease in GR mRNA in the brain, with a notable reduction in the amygdala that was associated with sustained alterations in anxiety, fear and sociability-like behaviors. Lentiviral-mediated restoration of the GR mRNA deficit, specifically within the adult central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA), reversed the enduring changes in anxiety and social behavior after ELS. These results provide evidence of lasting changes in CeA GR neural circuitry following ELS and suggest a mechanistic role for GR-regulated processes in the CeA in mediating the lifelong maladaptive behaviors of ELS. We demonstrate that the long-lasting behavioral effects of ELS are reversible later in life and implicate the involvement of CeA GR-dependent activity in the sustained dysregulation of emotion following ELS.
Project description:Environmental stress has been demonstrated to increase susceptibility for mood and anxiety disorders, and hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the primary endocrine response to stress, is often observed in these patients. HPA axis activation is initiated by corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) from the hypothalamus, leading to the hypothesis that hypothalamic CRF overexpression contributes to HPA axis hyperactivity in psychiatric patients. In addition, elevated CRF in cerebrospinal fluid is observed in mood and anxiety disorder patients, suggesting that CRF is also being overproduced from extrahypothalamic sources such as the central amygdala (CeA) and overactivity of the amygdala in neuroimaging studies is a consistent finding in anxiety and depression patients. Due to the importance of CRF and the amygdala in the etiology of stress-sensitive psychiatric disorders, the present study sought to further dissect the impact of CRF overexpression (OE) in the amygdala on downstream behavioral, endocrine, and gene-expression changes typically associated with chronic stress. To test the hypothesis that elevated CRF output from the amygdala would reproduce HPA axis hyperactivity and behavioral symptoms of chronic stress, we developed a lentiviral vector in which 3.0kb of the CRF promoter drives overexpression of CRF (LVCRFp3.0CRF). In adult male rats, Experiment-1 examined behavioral consequences of chronic CRF overexpression from the amygdala; the dexamethasone (Dex)/CRF test was used to measure HPA axis reactivity. Experiment-2 focused on HPA axis disruptions; the dexamethasone-suppression and CRF-stimulation tests as well as the Dex/CRF test were used. In both experiments, expression of HPA-axis related transcripts were assessed.