Glucocorticoid receptor number predicts increase in amygdala activity after severe stress

Geuze E, van Wingen GA, van Zuiden M, Rademaker AR, Vermetten E, Kavelaars A, Fernández G, Heijnen CJ.
Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Apr 11. [Epub ahead of print]

INTRODUCTION: Individuals who are exposed to a traumatic event are at increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have shown that increased amygdala activity is frequently found in patients with PTSD. In addition, pre-trauma glucocorticoid receptor (GR) number in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) has been found to be a significant predictor for the development of PTSD symptoms. Research in rodents has shown that the response of basolateral amygdala neurons to corticosterone is mediated by GR. However, to the best of our knowledge, no previous study has investigated GR number in PBMCs and amygdala function in humans. METHODS: To investigate whether peripheral GR number is related to amygdala functioning, we assessed GR number in PBMCs of healthy soldiers before their deployment to Afghanistan. Amygdala functioning was assessed with fMRI before and after deployment. RESULTS: We found that pre-deployment GR number was significantly negatively correlated to pre-deployment amygdala activity. More importantly, pre-deployment GR number predicted the increase in amygdala activity by deployment. DISCUSSION: Our results demonstrate that peripheral GR number is associated with amygdala functioning and predicts the increase in amygdala activity following military deployment in healthy individuals who did not develop PTSD. It is uncertain how this relationship is mediated mechanistically, but future studies should examine the relation of GR and amygdala activity to determine whether this is part of a common pathway leading to increased vulnerability to stress-related disorders.