Executive functions such as set-shifting and maintenance are cognitive processes that rely on complex neurodevelopmental processes. Although neurodevelopmental processes are mainly studied in animal models and in neuropsychiatric disorders, the underlying genetic basis for these processes under physiological conditions is poorly understood. We aimed to investigate the association between genetic variants of the Reelin (RELN) gene and cognitive set-shifting in healthy young individuals. The relationship between 12 selected single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the RELN gene and cognitive set-shifting as measured by perseverative errors using the modified card sorting test (MCST) was analysed in a sample of N=98 young healthy individuals (mean age in years: 22.7 ± 0.19). Results show that in individual MANCOVA analyses two of five significant SNPs (rs2711870: F(2,39)=7.14; p=0.0019; rs2249372: F(2,39)=6.97; p=0.002) withstood Bonferroni correction for multiple testing (corrected p-value: p=0.004). While haplotype analyses of the RELN gene showed significant associations between three haplotypes and perseverative error processing in various models of inheritance (adjusted for age, gender, BDI, MWTB IQ), the GCT haplotype showed the most robust finding with a recessive model of inheritance (p=2.32 × 10(-5)) involving the functional SNP rs362691 (Leu-Val amino acid change). Although our study strongly suggests the involvement of the RELN gene in cognitive set-shifting and maintenance, our study requires further exploration as well as replication of the findings in larger samples of healthy individuals and in clinical samples with neuropsychiatric disorders.
Fear conditioning and extinction are basic forms of associative learning that have gained considerable clinical relevance in enhancing our understanding of anxiety disorders and facilitating their treatment. Modern neuroimaging techniques have significantly aided the identification of anatomical structures and networks involved in fear conditioning. On closer inspection, there is considerable variation in methodology and results between studies. This systematic review provides an overview of the current neuroimaging literature on fear conditioning and extinction on healthy subjects, taking into account methodological issues such as the conditioning paradigm. A Pubmed search, as of December 2008, was performed and supplemented by manual searches of bibliographies of key articles. Two independent reviewers made the final study selection and data extraction. A total of 46 studies on cued fear conditioning and/or extinction on healthy volunteers using positron emission tomography or functional magnetic resonance imaging were reviewed. The influence of specific experimental factors, such as contingency and timing parameters, assessment of conditioned responses, and characteristics of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli, on cerebral activation patterns was examined. Results were summarized descriptively. A network consisting of fear-related brain areas, such as amygdala, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex, is activated independently of design parameters. However, some neuroimaging studies do not report these findings in the presence of methodological heterogeneities. Furthermore, other brain areas are differentially activated, depending on specific design parameters. These include stronger hippocampal activation in trace conditioning and tactile stimulation. Furthermore, tactile unconditioned stimuli enhance activation of pain related, motor, and somatosensory areas. Differences concerning experimental factors may partly explain the variance between neuroimaging investigations on human fear conditioning and extinction and should, therefore, be taken into serious consideration in the planning and the interpretation of research projects.
The medial temporal lobe (MTL) is essential for declarative memory formation, but also a frequent source of seizures. To decrease the risk of amnestic impairments after temporal lobectomy, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is increasingly used to establish pre-operative measures for a prognosis of postoperative memory performance. The present study addresses one of the major challenges in clinical fMRI, the interpretation of activation pattern in single subjects. Before investigating patients however, it must be first assessed to which extent the verbal memory paradigm can be used to determine the lateralization and the functional neuroanatomy of MTL-activity. Therefore, this study took a "step backwards" by first examining healthy subjects without known MTL pathology.
Major depression has been repeatedly associated with amygdala hyper-responsiveness to negative (but not positive) facial expressions at early, automatic stages of emotion processing using subliminally presented stimuli. However, it is not clear whether this "limbic bias" is a correlate of depression or represents a vulnerability marker preceding the onset of the disease. Because childhood maltreatment is a potent risk factor for the development of major depression in later life, we explored whether childhood maltreatment is associated with amygdalar emotion processing bias in maltreated but healthy subjects. Amygdala responsiveness to subliminally presented sad and happy faces was measured by means of fMRI at 3 T in N = 150 healthy subjects carefully screened for psychiatric disorders. Childhood maltreatment was assessed by the 25-item childhood trauma questionnaire (CTQ). A strong association of CTQ-scores with amygdala responsiveness to sad, but not happy facial expressions emerged. This result was further qualified by an interaction of emotional valence and CTQ-scores and was not confounded by trait anxiety, current depression level, age, gender, intelligence, education level, and more recent stressful life-events. Childhood maltreatment is apparently associated with detectable changes in amygdala function during early stages of emotion processing which resemble findings described in major depression. Limbic hyper-responsiveness to negative facial cues could be a consequence of the experience of maltreatment during childhood increasing the risk of depression in later life. Limitation: the present association of limbic bias and maltreatment was demonstrated in the absence of psychopathological abnormalities, thereby limiting strong conclusions.
Cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) ? have been implicated in neurodegeneration relevant to various neuropsychiatric disorders. Little is known about the genetic predisposition to neurodegenerative properties of cytokine genes on brain function and on hippocampus (HC) function in particular. In this study we investigate the neurodegenerative role of TNF polymorphisms on brain morphology in healthy individuals.
The functional catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) val158met polymorphism has been found to be associated with anxiety disorders and depression as well as with neural correlates of emotional processing, with, however, contradictory results. Thus, the aim of the present study was to re-evaluate the impact of the COMT val158met variant on neural activation correlates of emotional face processing in a sample of healthy probands. In 85 healthy subjects genotyped for the COMT val158met polymorphism, amygdala responses were assessed by means of fMRI. Participants were presented with anger- and fear-relevant faces in a robust emotion-processing paradigm. For exploratory reasons, a supplementary whole-brain analysis of the allele-dose model and a gender-stratified analysis were conducted. The COMT 158val allele showed an allele-dose effect on increased predominantly left-sided amygdala activity in response to fearful/angry facial stimuli (p(uncorrected)=.00004). This effect was independent from the distribution of the frequently studied 5-HTTLPR polymorphism for which a linear effect of S-alleles on amygdala responsiveness was replicated. The influence of COMT 158val alleles was only discerned in the female subgroup of probands. The whole-brain analysis suggested associations of the COMT 158val allele with increased activity in areas of the ventral visual stream and the lateral prefrontal cortex. The present results provide further support for a-potentially female-specific-role of the COMT val158met polymorphism in the genetic and neural underpinnings of anxiety- and depression-related intermediate phenotypes and may aid in further clarifying the differential role of COMT genotype driven dopaminergic tonus in the processing of emotionally salient stimuli.
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