A Phenotype of Early Infancy Predicts Reactivity of the Amygdala in Male Adults
Schwartz, C. E.
Kunwar, P. S.
Bloch, R. B.
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CitationSchwartz, C. E., P. S. Kunwar, Douglas N. Greve, Jerome Kagan, Nancy Claire Snidman, and R. B. Bloch. 2011. A phenotype of early infancy predicts reactivity of the amygdala in male adults. Molecular psychiatry 17(10): 1042-1050.
AbstractOne of the central questions that has occupied those disciplines concerned with human development is the nature of continuities and discontinuities from birth to maturity. The amygdala plays a central role in the processing of novelty and emotion in the brain. While there is considerable variability among individuals in the reactivity of the amygdala to novel and emotional stimuli, the origin of these individual differences is not well understood. Four month old infants called high reactive (HR) demonstrate a distinctive pattern of vigorous motor activity and crying to specific unfamiliar visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli in the laboratory. Low-reactive infants show the complementary pattern. Here we demonstrate that the HR infant phenotype predicts greater amygdalar reactivity to novel faces almost two decades later in adults. A prediction of individual differences in brain function at maturity can be made on the basis of a single behavioural assessment made in the laboratory at four months of age. This is the earliest known human behavioural phenotype that predicts individual differences in patterns of neural activity at maturity. These temperamental differences rooted in infancy may be relevant to understanding individual differences in vulnerability and resilience to clinical psychiatric disorder. Males who were HR infants showed particularly high-levels of reactivity to novel faces in the amygdala that distinguished them as adults from all other sex/temperament subgroups, suggesting that their amygdala is particularly prone to engagement by unfamiliar faces. These findings underline the importance of taking gender into account when studying the developmental neurobiology of human temperament and anxiety disorders. The genetic study of behavioral and biologic intermediate phenotypes (or “endophenotypes”) indexing anxiety-proneness offers an important alternative to examining phenotypes based on clinically-defined disorder. Because the HR phenotype is characterized by specific patterns of reactivity to elemental visual, olfactory, and auditory stimuli, well before complex social behaviors such as shyness or fearful interaction with strangers can be observed, it may be closer to underlying neurobiological mechanisms than behavioral profiles observed later in life. This possibility, together with the fact that environmental factors have less time to impact the four-month phenotype, suggests that this temperamental profile may be a fruitful target for high-risk genetic studies.
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