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Resting-State Functional and Structural Connectivity Within an Insula–Amygdala Route Specifically Index State and Trait Anxiety

  • Volker Baur
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Volker Baur, Ph.D., Division Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Zurich, Binzmühlestr. 14/25, CH-8050 Zurich, Switzerland
    Affiliations
    Division Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Jürgen Hänggi
    Affiliations
    Division Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Nicolas Langer
    Affiliations
    Division Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Lutz Jäncke
    Affiliations
    Division Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    Center for Integrative Human Physiology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    International Aging and Plasticity Imaging Center, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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      Background

      Conjoint activity of the insula and amygdala has frequently been reported during emotional stimulation in general and in anxiety-related contexts in particular. However, direct connectivity between the insula and amygdala in this framework has received little attention so far. Studying whether inter-individual differences in anxiety reflect variation in insula–amygdala connectivity is a way to push forward the understanding of network-related aspects underlying anxious behavior.

      Methods

      To investigate functional and structural connectivity, we applied resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging in a group of 32 healthy subjects. Specific measures of connectivity between subregions of the insula and amygdala were related to subjects' anxiety levels.

      Results

      Resting-state functional connectivity between the anterior insula and the basolateral amygdala was strongly related to state anxiety, explaining 40% of behavioral variance across subjects. This was substantiated by applying tractography, yielding a relationship between trait anxiety and axial diffusivity for a direct pathway between anterior insula and basolateral amygdala.

      Conclusions

      Our results indicate that anterior insula and basolateral amygdala constitute a network part that is prominently linked to anxiety. Within this route, state and trait behavioral impacts seem to be specifically linked to dynamic functional and more static structural neural aspects, respectively. Insula–amygdala resting-state functional connectivity can be assessed in an easy and straightforward way and has high potential to serve as a biomarker for anxiety.

      Key Words

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