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Sex differences in the effects of individual anxiety state on regional responses to negative emotional scenes.

Biology of Sex Differences 2024 Februrary 14
BACKGROUND: Men and women are known to show differences in the incidence and clinical manifestations of mood and anxiety disorders. Many imaging studies have investigated the neural correlates of sex differences in emotion processing. However, it remains unclear how anxiety might impact emotion processing differently in men and women.

METHOD: We recruited 119 healthy adults and assessed their levels of anxiety using State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) State score. With functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined regional responses to negative vs. neutral (Neg-Neu) picture matching in the Hariri task. Behavioral data were analyzed using regression and repeated-measures analysis of covariance with age as a covariate, and fMRI data were analyzed using a full-factorial model with sex as a factor and age as a covariate.

RESULTS: Men and women did not differ in STAI score, or accuracy rate or reaction time (RT) (Neg-Neu). However, STAI scores correlated positively with RT (Neg-Neu) in women but not in men. Additionally, in women, STAI score correlated positively with lingual gyrus (LG) and negatively with medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and superior frontal gyrus (SFG) activity during Neg vs. Neu trials. The parameter estimates (βs) of mPFC also correlated with RT (Neg-Neu) in women but not in men. Generalized psychophysiological interaction (gPPI) analysis in women revealed mPFC connectivity with the right inferior frontal gyrus, right SFG, and left parahippocampal gyrus during Neg vs. Neu trials in positive correlation with both STAI score and RT (Neg-Neu). In a mediation analysis, mPFC gPPI but not mPFC activity fully mediated the association between STAI scores and RT (Neg-Neu).

CONCLUSION: With anxiety affecting the behavioral and neural responses to negative emotions in women but not in men and considering the known roles of the mPFC in emotion regulation, we discussed heightened sensitivity and regulatory demands during negative emotion processing as neurobehavioral markers of anxiety in women.

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