To test the effects of cortisol on affective experience, the authors orally administered a placebo, 20 mg cortisol, or 40 mg cortisol to 85 men. Participants' affective responses to negative and neutral stimuli were measured. Self-reported affective state was also assessed. Participants in the 40-mg group (showing extreme cortisol elevations within the physiological range) rated neutral stimuli as more highly arousing than did participants in the placebo and 20-mg groups. Furthermore, within the 20-mg group, individuals with higher cortisol elevations made higher arousal ratings of neutral stimuli. However, cortisol was unrelated to self-reported affective state. Thus, findings indicate that acute cortisol elevations cause heightened arousal in response to objectively nonarousing stimuli, in the absence of effects on mood.
The amygdalae are important, if not critical, brain regions for many affective, attentional and memorial processes, and dysfunction of the amygdalae has been a consistent finding in the study of clinical depression. Theoretical models of the functional neuroanatomy of both normal and psychopathological affective processes which posit cortical hemispheric specialization of functions have been supported by both lesion and functional neuroimaging studies in humans. Results from human neuroimaging studies in support of amygdalar hemispheric specialization are inconsistent. However, recent results from human lesion studies are consistent with hemispheric specialization. An important, yet largely ignored, feature of the amygdalae in the primate brain--derived from both neuroanatomical and electrophysiological data--is that there are virtually no direct interhemispheric connections via the anterior commissure (AC). This feature stands in stark contrast to that of the rodent brain wherein virtually all amygdalar nuclei have direct interhemispheric connections. We propose this feature of the primate brain, in particular the human brain, is a result of influences from frontocortical hemispheric specialization which have developed over the course of primate brain evolution. Results consistent with this notion were obtained by examining the nature of human amygdalar interhemispheric connectivity using both functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). We found modest evidence of amygdalar interhemispheric functional connectivity in the non-depressed brain, whereas there was strong evidence of functional connectivity in the depressed brain. We interpret and discuss the nature of this connectivity in the depressed brain in the context of dysfunctional frontocortical-amygdalar interactions which accompany clinical depression.
BACKGROUND: The frontal lobe has been crucially involved in the neurobiology of major depression, but inconsistencies among studies exist, in part due to a failure of considering modulatory variables such as symptom severity, comorbidity with anxiety, and distinct subtypes, as codeterminants for patterns of brain activation in depression. METHODS: Resting electroencephalogram was recorded in 38 unmedicated subjects with major depressive disorder and 18 normal comparison subjects, and analyzed with a tomographic source localization method that computes the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density for standard electroencephalogram frequency bands. Symptom severity and anxiety were measured via self-report and melancholic features via clinical interview. RESULTS: Depressed subjects showed more excitatory (beta3, 21.5-30.0 Hz) activity in the right superior and inferior frontal lobe (Brodmann's area 9/10/11) than comparison subjects. In melancholic subjects, this effect was particularly pronounced for severe depression, and right frontal activity correlated positively with anxiety. Depressed subjects showed posterior cingulate and precuneus hypoactivity. CONCLUSIONS: While confirming prior results implicating right frontal and posterior cingulate regions, this study highlights the importance of depression severity, anxiety, and melancholic features in patterns of brain activity accompanying depression.
Many investigators have hypothesized that brain response to cortisol is altered in depression. However, neural activation in response to exogenously manipulated cortisol elevations has not yet been directly examined in depressed humans. Animal research shows that glucocorticoids have robust effects on hippocampal function, and can either enhance or suppress neuroplastic events in the hippocampus depending on a number of factors. We hypothesized that depressed individuals would show 1) altered hippocampal response to exogenous administration of cortisol, and 2) altered effects of cortisol on learning. In a repeated-measures design, 19 unmedicated depressed and 41 healthy individuals completed two fMRI scans. Fifteen mg oral hydrocortisone (i.e., cortisol) or placebo (order randomized and double-blind) was administered 1 h prior to encoding of emotional and neutral words during fMRI scans. Data analysis examined the effects of cortisol administration on 1) brain activation during encoding, and 2) subsequent free recall for words. Cortisol affected subsequent recall performance in depressed but not healthy individuals. We found alterations in hippocampal response to cortisol in depressed women, but not in depressed men (who showed altered response to cortisol in other regions, including subgenual prefrontal cortex). In both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function were positively correlated with its effects on recall performance assessed days later. Our data provide evidence that in depressed compared to healthy women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function are altered. Our data also show that in both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on emotional memory formation and hippocampal function are related.
In a test of the effects of cortisol on emotional memory, 90 men were orally administered placebo or 20 or 40 mg cortisol and presented with emotionally arousing and neutral stimuli. On memory tests administered within 1 hr of stimulus presentation, cortisol elevations caused a reduction in the number of errors committed on free-recall tasks. Two evenings later, when cortisol levels were no longer manipulated, inverted-U quadratic trends were found for recognition memory tasks, reflecting memory facilitation in the 20-mg group for both negative and neutral information. Results suggest that the effects of cortisol on memory do not differ substantially for emotional and neutral information. The study provides evidence of beneficial effects of acute cortisol elevations on explicit memory in humans.
The relationships between brain electrical and metabolic activity are being uncovered currently in animal models using invasive methods; however, in the human brain this relationship remains not well understood. In particular, the relationship between noninvasive measurements of electrical activity and metabolism remains largely undefined. To understand better these relations, cerebral activity was measured simultaneously with electroencephalography (EEG) and positron emission tomography using [(18)f]-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (PET-FDG) in 12 normal human subjects during rest. Intracerebral distributions of current density were estimated, yielding tomographic maps for seven standard EEG frequency bands. The PET and EEG data were registered to the same space and voxel dimensions, and correlational maps were created on a voxel-by-voxel basis across all subjects. For each band, significant positive and negative correlations were found that are generally consistent with extant understanding of EEG band power function. With increasing EEG frequency, there was an increase in the number of positively correlated voxels, whereas the lower alpha band (8.5-10.0 Hz) was associated with the highest number of negative correlations. This work presents a method for comparing EEG signals with other more traditionally tomographic functional imaging data on a 3-D basis. This method will be useful in the future when it is applied to functional imaging methods with faster time resolution, such as short half-life PET blood flow tracers and functional magnetic resonance imaging.
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.