Cortisol, stress, and attentional bias toward threat

Department of Psychology, Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA.
Anxiety, stress, and coping (Impact Factor: 1.55). 02/2010; 23(5):529-45. DOI: 10.1080/10615801003596969
Source: PubMed


Attentional bias toward threatening stimuli is a central characteristic of anxiety and acute stress. Recent small-scale studies have provided divergent perspectives on the association between the stress hormone cortisol and attentional bias toward threat cues. In a larger sample size than previous studies, we examined this association by investigating the impact of cortisol on attentional bias in two studies using a psychological stressor (N=35) and a physical stressor (N=65), respectively. Attentional bias and salivary cortisol were measured prior to and following the administration of a stressful task designed to increase cortisol levels. Results across these studies were equivocal relative to the association between baseline cortisol and baseline attentional bias. In addition, the association between acute change in cortisol and change in attentional bias appeared to differ as a function of the presence or absence of psychological stress. There was a trend toward a stronger negative association between acute cortisol change and attentional bias change among women relative to men. These results imply that the association between cortisol and attentional bias may be moderated by additional factors, such as gender or presence of stress.

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    • "evaluated an early stage attentional bias, while McHugh et al. (2010) evaluated a later-stage attentional bias because of the use of a 500-ms stimulus duration. Since positive correlation between cortisol and attentional bias is found in an early stage attentional bias rather than a late stage attentional bias (Ellenbogen et al. 2006, 2010; van Honk et al. 1998), the inconsistent results in cortisol actions on attentional bias may be attributable to the difference in its processing stage. "
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    Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback 03/2012; 37(1):19-29. DOI:10.1007/s10484-011-9172-z · 1.13 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: IMPORTANCE The FKBP5 gene product regulates glucocorticoid receptor (GR) sensitivity and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functioning and has been associated with many stress-related psychiatric disorders. The study of intermediate phenotypes, such as emotion-processing biases and their neural substrates, provides a way to clarify the mechanisms by which FKBP5 dysregulation mediates risk for psychiatric disorders. OBJECTIVE To examine whether allelic variations for a putatively functional single-nucleotide polymorphism associated with FKBP5 gene regulation (rs1360780) would relate differentially to attention bias for threat. this was measured through behavioral response on a dot probe task and hippocampal activation during task performance. Morphologic substrates of differential hippocampal response were also measured. DESIGN Cross-sectional study conducted from 2010 to 2012 examining associations between genotype, behavioral response, and neural response (using functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI]) on the dot probe; voxel-based morphometry and global and local shape analyses were used to measure structural differences in hippocampi between genotype groups. SETTING Participants were recruited from primary care clinics of a publicly funded hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. PARTICIPANTS An African American cohort of adults (N = 103) was separated into 2 groups by genotype: one genotype group included carriers of the rs1360780 T allele, which has been associated with increased risk for posttraumatic stress disorder and affective disorders; the other group did not carry this allele. Behavioral data included both sexes (N = 103); the MRI cohort (n = 36) included only women. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Behavioral and fMRI (blood oxygen level-dependent) response, voxel-based morphometry, and shape analyses. RESULTS Carriers of the rs1360780 T allele showed an attention bias toward threat compared with individuals without this allele (F1,90 = 5.19, P = .02). Carriers of this allele demonstrated corresponding increases in hippocampal activation and differences in morphology; global and local shape analyses revealed alterations in hippocampal shape for TT/TC compared with CC genotype groups. CONCLUSION Genetic variants of FKBP5 may be associated with risk for stress-related psychiatric disorders via differential effects on hippocampal structure and function, resulting in altered attention response to perceived threat.
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