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Considerable evidence exists to support an association between psychological states and immune function. However, the mechanisms by which such states are instantiated in the brain and influence the immune system are poorly understood. The present study investigated relations among physiological measures of affective style, psychological well being, and immune function. Negative and positive affect were elicited by using an autobiographical writing task. Electroencephalography and affect-modulated eye-blink startle were used to measure trait and state negative affect. Participants were vaccinated for influenza, and antibody titers after the vaccine were assayed to provide an in vivo measure of immune function. Higher levels of right-prefrontal electroencephalographic activation and greater magnitude of the startle reflex reliably predicted poorer immune response. These data support the hypothesis that individuals characterized by a more negative affective style mount a weaker immune response and therefore may be at greater risk for illness than those with a more positive affective style.
BACKGROUND: Autism is a syndrome of unknown cause, marked by abnormal development of social behavior. Attempts to link pathological features of the amygdala, which plays a key role in emotional processing, to autism have shown little consensus. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate amygdala volume in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and its relationship to laboratory measures of social behavior to examine whether variations in amygdala structure relate to symptom severity. DESIGN: We conducted 2 cross-sectional studies of amygdala volume, measured blind to diagnosis on high-resolution, anatomical magnetic resonance images. Participants were 54 males aged 8 to 25 years, including 23 with autism and 5 with Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, recruited and evaluated at an academic center for developmental disabilities and 26 age- and sex-matched community volunteers. The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised was used to confirm diagnoses and to validate relationships with laboratory measures of social function. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Amygdala volume, judgment of facial expressions, and eye tracking. RESULTS: In study 1, individuals with autism who had small amygdalae were slowest to distinguish emotional from neutral expressions (P=.02) and showed least fixation of eye regions (P=.04). These same individuals were most socially impaired in early childhood, as reported on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (P<.04). Study 2 showed smaller amygdalae in individuals with autism than in control subjects (P=.03) and group differences in the relation between amygdala volume and age. Study 2 also replicated findings of more gaze avoidance and childhood impairment in participants with autism with the smallest amygdalae. Across the combined sample, severity of social deficits interacted with age to predict different patterns of amygdala development in autism (P=.047). CONCLUSIONS: These findings best support a model of amygdala hyperactivity that could explain most volumetric findings in autism. Further psychophysiological and histopathological studies are indicated to confirm these findings.
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most commonly known genetic disorder associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Overlapping features in these populations include gaze aversion, communication deficits, and social withdrawal. Although the association between FXS and ASD has been well documented at the behavioral level, the underlying neural mechanisms associated with the social/emotional deficits in these groups remain unclear. We collected functional brain images and eye-gaze fixations from 9 individuals with FXS and 14 individuals with idiopathic ASD, as well as 15 typically developing (TD) individuals, while they performed a facial-emotion discrimination task. The FXS group showed a similar yet less aberrant pattern of gaze fixations compared with the ASD group. The FXS group also showed fusiform gyrus (FG) hypoactivation compared with the TD control group. Activation in FG was strongly and positively associated with average eye fixation and negatively associated with ASD characteristics in the FXS group. The FXS group displayed significantly greater activation than both the TD control and ASD groups in the left hippocampus (HIPP), left superior temporal gyrus (STG), right insula (INS), and left postcentral gyrus (PCG). These group differences in brain activation are important as they suggest unique underlying face-processing neural circuitry in FXS versus idiopathic ASD, largely supporting the hypothesis that ASD characteristics in FXS and idiopathic ASD reflect partially divergent impairments at the neural level, at least in FXS individuals without a co-morbid diagnosis of ASD.
We present a novel data smoothing and analysis framework for cortical thickness data defined on the brain cortical manifold. Gaussian kernel smoothing, which weights neighboring observations according to their 3D Euclidean distance, has been widely used in 3D brain images to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. When the observations lie on a convoluted brain surface, however, it is more natural to assign the weights based on the geodesic distance along the surface. We therefore develop a framework for geodesic distance-based kernel smoothing and statistical analysis on the cortical manifolds. As an illustration, we apply our methods in detecting the regions of abnormal cortical thickness in 16 high functioning autistic children via random field based multiple comparison correction that utilizes the new smoothing technique.
Diminished gaze fixation is one of the core features of autism and has been proposed to be associated with abnormalities in the neural circuitry of affect. We tested this hypothesis in two separate studies using eye tracking while measuring functional brain activity during facial discrimination tasks in individuals with autism and in typically developing individuals. Activation in the fusiform gyrus and amygdala was strongly and positively correlated with the time spent fixating the eyes in the autistic group in both studies, suggesting that diminished gaze fixation may account for the fusiform hypoactivation to faces commonly reported in autism. In addition, variation in eye fixation within autistic individuals was strongly and positively associated with amygdala activation across both studies, suggesting a heightened emotional response associated with gaze fixation in autism.
BACKGROUND: The broad autism phenotype includes subclinical autistic characteristics found to have a higher prevalence in unaffected family members of individuals with autism. These characteristics primarily affect the social aspects of language, communication, and human interaction. The current research focuses on possible neurobehavioral characteristics associated with the broad autism phenotype. METHODS: We used a face-processing task associated with atypical patterns of gaze fixation and brain function in autism while collecting brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and eye tracking in unaffected siblings of individuals with autism. RESULTS: We found robust differences in gaze fixation and brain function in response to images of human faces in unaffected siblings compared with typically developing control individuals. The siblings' gaze fixations and brain activation patterns during the face processing task were similar to that of the autism group and showed decreased gaze fixation along with diminished fusiform activation compared with the control group. Furthermore, amygdala volume in the siblings was similar to the autism group and was significantly reduced compared with the control group. CONCLUSIONS: Together, these findings provide compelling evidence for differences in social/emotional processing and underlying neural circuitry in siblings of individuals with autism, supporting the notion of unique endophenotypes associated with the broad autism phenotype.
Although there are many imaging studies on traditional ROI-based amygdala volumetry, there are very few studies on modeling amygdala shape variations. This paper presents a unified computational and statistical framework for modeling amygdala shape variations in a clinical population. The weighted spherical harmonic representation is used to parameterize, smooth out, and normalize amygdala surfaces. The representation is subsequently used as an input for multivariate linear models accounting for nuisance covariates such as age and brain size difference using the SurfStat package that completely avoids the complexity of specifying design matrices. The methodology has been applied for quantifying abnormal local amygdala shape variations in 22 high functioning autistic subjects.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting behavioral and social cognition, but there is little understanding about the link between the functional deficit and its underlying neuroanatomy. We applied a 2D version of voxel-based morphometry (VBM) in differentiating the white matter concentration of the corpus callosum for the group of 16 high functioning autistic and 12 normal subjects. Using the white matter density as an index for neural connectivity, autism is shown to exhibit less white matter concentration in the region of the genu, rostrum, and splenium removing the effect of age based on the general linear model (GLM) framework. Further, it is shown that the less white matter concentration in the corpus callosum in autism is due to hypoplasia rather than atrophy.
Despite the vast literature that has implicated asymmetric activation of the prefrontal cortex in approach-withdrawal motivation and emotion, no published reports have directly explored the neural correlates of well-being. Eighty-four right-handed adults (ages 57-60) completed self-report measures of eudaimonic well-being, hedonic well-being, and positive affect prior to resting electroencephalography. As hypothesized, greater left than right superior frontal activation was associated with higher levels of both forms of well-being. Hemisphere-specific analyses documented the importance of goal-directed approach tendencies beyond those captured by approach-related positive affect for eudaimonic but not for hedonic well-being. Appropriately engaging sources of appetitive motivation, characteristic of higher left than right baseline levels of prefrontal activation, may encourage the experience of well-being.
Abstract. Although the voxel-based morphometry (VBM) has been widely used in quantifying the amount of gray matter of the human brain, the optimal amount of registration that should be used in VBM has not been addressed. In this paper, we present a novel multi-scale VBM using the weighted spherical harmonic (SPHARM) representation to address the issue. The weighted-SPHARM provides the explicit smooth functional representation of a true unknown cortical boundary. Based on this new representation, the gray matter tissue density is constructed using the Euclidean distance map from a voxel to the estimated smooth cortical boundary. The methodology is applied in localizing abnormal cortical regions in a group of autistic subjects. 1
Anxiety is a debilitating symptom of many psychiatric disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and autism. Anxiety involves changes in both central and peripheral biology, yet extant functional imaging studies have focused exclusively on the brain. Here we show, using functional brain and cardiac imaging in sequential brain and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sessions in response to cues that predict either threat (a possible shock) or safety (no possibility of shock), that MR signal change in the amygdala and the prefrontal and insula cortices predicts cardiac contractility to the threat of shock. Participants with greater MR signal change in these regions show increased cardiac contractility to the threat versus safety condition, a measure of the sympathetic nervous system contribution to the myocardium. These findings demonstrate robust neural-cardiac coupling during induced anxiety and indicate that individuals with greater activation in brain regions identified with aversive emotion show larger magnitude cardiac contractility increases to threat.
Individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS) commonly display characteristics of social anxiety, including gaze aversion, increased time to initiate social interaction, and difficulty forming meaningful peer relationships. While neural correlates of face processing, an important component of social interaction, are altered in FXS, studies have not examined whether social anxiety in this population is related to higher cognitive processes, such as memory. This study aimed to determine whether the neural circuitry involved in face encoding was disrupted in individuals with FXS, and whether brain activity during face encoding was related to levels of social anxiety. A group of 11 individuals with FXS (5 M) and 11 age- and gender-matched control participants underwent fMRI scanning while performing a face encoding task with online eye-tracking. Results indicate that compared to the control group, individuals with FXS exhibited decreased activation of prefrontal regions associated with complex social cognition, including the medial and superior frontal cortex, during successful face encoding. Further, the FXS and control groups showed significantly different relationships between measures of social anxiety (including gaze-fixation) and brain activity during face encoding. These data indicate that social anxiety in FXS may be related to the inability to successfully recruit higher level social cognition regions during the initial phases of memory formation.
Given the central role of the amygdala in fear perception and expression and its likely abnormality in affective disorders and autism, there is great demand for a technique to measure differences in neurochemistry of the human amygdala. Unfortunately, it is also a technically complex target for magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) due to a small volume, high field inhomogeneity and a shared boundary with hippocampus, which can undergo opposite changes in response to stress. We attempted to achieve reliable PRESS-localized single-voxel MRS at 3T of the isolated human amygdala by using anatomy to guide voxel size and location. We present data from 106 amygdala-MRS sessions from 58 volunteers aged 10 to 52 years, including two tests of one-week stability and a feasibility study in an adolescent sample. Our main outcomes were indices of spectral quality, repeated measurement variability (within- and between-subject standard deviations), and sensitivity to stable individual differences measured by intra-class correlation (ICC). We present metrics of amygdala-MRS reliability for n-acetyl-aspartate, creatine, choline, myo-Inositol, and glutamate+glutamine (Glx). We found that scan quality suffers an age-related difference in field homogeneity and modified our protocol to compensate. We further identified an effect of anatomical inclusion near the endorhinal sulcus, a region of high synaptic density, that contributes up to 29% of within-subject variability across 4 sessions (n=14). Remaining variability in line width but not signal-to-noise also detracts from reliability. Statistical correction for partial inclusion of these strong neurochemical gradients decreases n-acetyl-aspartate reliability from an intraclass correlation of 0.84 to 0.56 for 7-minute acquisitions. This suggests that systematic differences in anatomical inclusion can contribute greatly to apparent neurochemical concentrations and could produce false group differences in experimental studies. Precise, anatomically-based prescriptions that avoid age-related sources of inhomogeneity and use longer scan times may permit study of individual differences in neurochemistry throughout development in this late-maturing structure.
We present a new tensor-based morphometric framework that quantifies cortical shape variations using a local area element. The local area element is computed from the Riemannian metric tensors, which are obtained from the smooth functional parametrization of a cortical mesh. For the smooth parametrization, we have developed a novel weighted spherical harmonic (SPHARM) representation, which generalizes the traditional SPHARM as a special case. For a specific choice of weights, the weighted-SPHARM is shown to be the least squares approximation to the solution of an isotropic heat diffusion on a unit sphere. The main aims of this paper are to present the weighted-SPHARM and to show how it can be used in the tensor-based morphometry. As an illustration, the methodology has been applied in the problem of detecting abnormal cortical regions in the group of high functioning autistic subjects.
We present a novel weighted Fourier series (WFS) representation for cortical surfaces. The WFS representation is a data smoothing technique that provides the explicit smooth functional estimation of unknown cortical boundary as a linear combination of basis functions. The basic properties of the representation are investigated in connection with a self-adjoint partial differential equation and the traditional spherical harmonic (SPHARM) representation. To reduce steep computational requirements, a new iterative residual fitting (IRF) algorithm is developed. Its computational and numerical implementation issues are discussed in detail. The computer codes are also available at http://www.stat.wisc.edu/-mchung/softwares/weighted.SPHARM/weighted-SPHARM.html. As an illustration, the WFS is applied i n quantifying the amount ofgray matter in a group of high functioning autistic subjects. Within the WFS framework, cortical thickness and gray matter density are computed and compared.