Repeatability of Neural and Autonomic Responses to Acute Psychosocial Stress

Academic Article


  • FMRI Montreal Imaging Stress Tasks (MIST) have been shown to activate endocrine and autonomic stress responses that are mediated by a prefrontal cortex (PFC)-hippocampus-amygdala circuit. However, the stability of the neurobehavioral responses over time and the ability to monitor response to clinical interventions has yet to be validated. The objective of this study was to compare the fMRI and physiologic responses to acute psychosocial stress in healthy volunteers during initial and follow-up visits approximately 13 weeks later, simulating a typical duration of clinical intervention. We hypothesized that responses to stress would remain highly conserved across the 2 visits in the absence of an intervention. 15 healthy volunteers completed a variant of control math task (CMT) and stress math task (SMT) conditions based on MIST. Neural responses were modeled using an event-related design with estimates for math performance and auditory feedback for each task condition. For each visit, measures of stress reactivity included differential fMRI and heart rate (SMT-CMT), as well as salivary alpha-amylase before and after scanning sessions. The results revealed that differential fMRI, as well as increased heart rate and salivary alpha-amylase from before and after scanning remained similar between visits. Intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) values revealed areas of reliable task-dependent BOLD fMRI signal response across visits for peaks of clusters for the main effect of condition (SMT vs CMT) within dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), insula, and hippocampus regions during math performance and within subgenual ACC, posterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral PFC regions during auditory feedback. Given that the neurobehavioral response to acute stress remained highly conserved across visits in the absence of an intervention, this study confirms the utility for MIST for assessing longitudinal changes in controlled trials that can identify underlying neurobiological mechanisms involved in mediating the efficacy of stress-reduction interventions.
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    Author List

  • Goodman AM; Diggs MD; Balachandran N; Kakulamarri PS; Oster RA; Allendorfer JB; Szaflarski JP
  • Volume

  • 14