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Microstructural integrity of white matter moderates an association between childhood adversity and adult trait anger

By M. Justin Kim, Maxwell L Elliott, Tracy C. d’Arbeloff, Annchen R. Knodt, Spenser R Radtke, Bartholomew D Brigidi, Ahmad R Hariri

Posted 25 Apr 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/307637 (published DOI: 10.1002/ab.21820)

Amongst a number of negative life sequelae associated with childhood adversity is the later expression of a higher dispositional tendency to experience anger and frustration to a wide range of situations (i.e., trait anger). We recently reported that an association between childhood adversity and trait anger is moderated by individual differences in both threat-related amygdala activity and executive control-related dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) activity, wherein individuals with relatively low amygdala and high dlPFC activity do not express higher trait anger even when having experienced childhood adversity. Here, we examine possible structural correlates of this functional dynamic using diffusion magnetic resonance imaging data from 647 young adult men and women volunteers. Specifically, we tested whether the degree of white matter microstructural integrity as indexed by fractional anisotropy modulated the association between childhood adversity and trait anger. Our analyses revealed that higher microstructural integrity of multiple pathways was associated with an attenuated link between childhood adversity and adult trait anger. Amongst these pathways was the uncinate fasciculus, which not only provides a major anatomical link between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex but also is associated with individual differences in regulating negative emotion through top-down cognitive reappraisal. These findings suggest that higher microstructural integrity of distributed white matter pathways including but not limited to the uncinate fasciculus may represent an anatomical foundation serving to buffer against the expression of childhood adversity as later trait anger, which is itself associated with multiple negative health outcomes.

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