Changes in cortical morphology resulting from long-term amygdala damage.
ABSTRACT The amygdala's contribution to emotion, cognition and behavior depends on its interactions with subcortical and cortical regions. Amygdala lesions result in altered functional activity in connected regions, but it is not known whether there might be long-term structural sequelae as well. We hypothesized that developmental bilateral amygdala lesions would be associated with specific gray matter morphometric abnormalities in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the ventral visual stream. We conducted regions of interest and vertex-based analyses of structural MRI data acquired in two patients with long-standing focal bilateral amygdala lesions (S.M. and A.P.), compared to gender- and age-matched healthy comparison subjects. Both patients showed significant proportional increases in gray matter volume of the vmPFC. Cortical thickness was increased in the vmPFC and ACC and decreased in the ventral visual stream. There were no morphometric changes in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or dorsal visual stream cortices. These findings support the hypothesis that cortical regions strongly connected with the amygdala undergo morphometric changes with long-standing amygdala damage. This is the first evidence in humans of the remote alteration of brain morphology in association with amygdala lesions, and will help in interpreting the structural and functional consequences of amygdala pathology in neuropsychiatric disorders.