Stressful experiences modulate neuro-circuitry function, and the temporal trajectory of these alterations, elapsing from early disturbances to late recovery, heavily influences resilience and vulnerability to stress. Such effects of stress may depend on processes that are engaged during resting-state, through active recollection of past experiences and anticipation of future events, all known to involve the default mode network (DMN). By inducing social stress and acquiring resting-state fMRI before stress, immediately following it, and two hours later, we expanded the time-window for examining the trajectory of the stress response. Throughout the study repeated cortisol samplings and self-reports of stress levels were obtained from 51 healthy young males. Post-stress alterations were investigated by whole brain resting-state functional connectivity of two central hubs of the DMN: the posterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus. Results indicate a 'recovery' pattern of DMN connectivity, in which all alterations, ascribed to the intervening stress, returned to pre-stress levels. The only exception to this pattern was a stress-induced rise in amygdala-hippocampal connectivity, which was sustained for as long as two hours following stress induction. Furthermore, this sustained enhancement of limbic connectivity was inversely correlated to individual stress-induced cortisol responsiveness (AUCi) and characterized only the group lacking such increased cortisol (i.e., non-responders). Our observations provide evidence of a prolonged post-stress response profile, characterized by both the comprehensive balance of most DMN functional connections and the distinct time and cortisol dependent ascent of intra- limbic connectivity. These novel insights into neuro-endocrine relations are another milestone in the ongoing search for individual markers in stress-related psychopathologies.
- Default-mode network
- Limbic connectivity
- Resting-state functional connectivity