Trauma-related psychopathology has been associated with an intense emotional reaction to stressful event. Emotional responses have evolved to signal the presence of risks to be avoided or of rewards to be approached in the environment. Thus, individuals' sensitivity to signals of risk and reward may affect the level of stress vulnerability. Stress, however, can modify these sensitivities as well. In the current functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we prospectively probed the neural correlates of such sensitivities in 24 healthy soldiers by using an interactive game that encompasses risky and rewarding intervals both pre-exposure and post-exposure to stressful military service. As expected, risky and rewarding intervals elicited selective responses in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (Nacc), respectively. Furthermore, increased post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms post-exposure (i.e., stress vulnerability) corresponded to greater amygdala's response to risk both pre-exposure and post-exposure and to decreased NAcc response to reward only post-exposure. By combining these regional responsivities post-exposure, we accurately identified all the most vulnerable soldiers. Imbalanced neural responsivity to risk and reward following exposure to stress may therefore constitute a marker for stress vulnerability. Such identification of vulnerability biomarkers can aid future diagnostic and therapeutic efforts by allowing early detection of vulnerability as well as follow up on patient's treatment progression.
- nucleus accumbens
- prospective study