Human vulnerability to stress depends on amygdala's predisposition and hippocampal plasticity

Roee Admon, Gad Lubin, Orit Stern, Keren Rosenberg, Lee Sela, Haim Ben-Ami, Talma Hendler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

182 Scopus citations


Variations in people's vulnerability to stressful life events may rise from a predated neural sensitivity as well as from differential neural modifications in response to the event. Because the occurrence of a stressful life event cannot be foreseen, characterizing the temporal trajectory of its neural manifestations in humans has been a real challenge. The current prospective study examined the emotional experience and brain responses of 50 a priori healthy new recruits to the Israeli Defense Forces at 2 time points: before they entered their mandatory military service and after their subsequent exposure to stressful events while deployed in combat units. Over time, soldiers reported on increase in stress symptoms that was correlated with greater amygdala and hippocampus responsiveness to stress-related content. However, these closely situated core limbic regions exhibited different temporal trajectories with regard to the stress effect; whereas amygdala's reactivity before stress predicted the increase in stress symptoms, the hippocampal change in activation over time correlated with the increase in such symptoms. Hippocampal plasticity was also reflected by a modification over time of its functional coupling with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and this coupling magnitude was again predicted by predated amygdala reactivity. Together, these findings suggest that variations in human's likelihood to develop symptomatic phenomena following stressful life events may depend on a balanced interplay between their amygdala's predisposing reactivity and hippocampal posteriori intra- and interregional plasticity. Accordingly, an individually tailored therapeutic approach for trauma survivors should target these 2 neural probes while considering their unique temporal prints.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14120-14125
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - 18 Aug 2009


  • Individual differences
  • Prospective study
  • Trauma
  • fMRI


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