Neuroticism modulates amygdala-prefrontal connectivity in response to negative emotional facial expressions

Henk R Cremers, Liliana R Demenescu, André Aleman, Remco Renken, Marie-José van Tol, Nic J A van der Wee, Dick J Veltman, Karin Roelofs
NeuroImage 2010 January 1, 49 (1): 963-70
Neuroticism is associated with the experience of negative affect and the development of affective disorders. While evidence exists for a modulatory role of neuroticism on task induced brain activity, it is unknown how neuroticism affects brain connectivity, especially the crucial coupling between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Here we investigate this relation between functional connectivity and personality in response to negative facial expressions. Sixty healthy control participants, from the Netherlands Study on Depression and Anxiety (NESDA), were scanned during an emotional faces gender decision task. Activity and functional amygdala connectivity (psycho-physiological interaction [PPI]) related to faces of negative emotional valence (angry, fearful and sad) was compared to neutral facial expressions, while neuroticism scores were entered as a regressor. Activity for fearful compared to neutral faces in the dorsomedial prefrontal (dmPFC) cortex was positively correlated with neuroticism scores. PPI analyses revealed that right amygdala-dmPFC connectivity for angry and fearful compared to neutral faces was positively correlated with neuroticism scores. In contrast, left amygdala-anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) connectivity for angry, fearful and sad compared to neutral faces was negatively related to neuroticism levels. DmPFC activity has frequently been associated with self-referential processing in social cognitive tasks. Our results therefore suggest that high neurotic participants display stronger self-referential processing in response to negative emotional faces. Second, in line with previous reports on ACC function, the negative correlation between amygdala-ACC connectivity and neuroticism scores might indicate that those high in neuroticism display diminished control function of the ACC over the amygdala. These connectivity patterns might be associated with vulnerability to developing affective disorders such as depression and anxiety.

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