Article

Thickness of ventromedial prefrontal cortex in humans is correlated with extinction memory.

Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 07/2005; 102(30):10706-11. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0502441102
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) has been implicated in fear extinction [Phelps, E. A., Delgado, M. R., Nearing, K. I. & Ledoux, J. E. (2004) Neuron 43, 897-905; Herry, C. & Garcia, R. (2003) Behav. Brain Res. 146, 89-96]. Here, we test the hypothesis that the cortical thickness of vmPFC regions is associated with how well healthy humans retain their extinction memory a day after having been conditioned and then extinguished. Fourteen participants underwent a 2-day fear conditioning and extinction protocol. The conditioned stimuli (CSs) were pictures of virtual lights, and the unconditioned stimulus (US) was an electric shock. On day 1, participants received 5 CS+US pairings (conditioning), followed by 10 CS trials with no US (extinction). On day 2, the CS was presented alone to test for extinction memory. Skin conductance response (SCR) was the behavioral index of conditioning and extinction. Participants underwent MRI scans to obtain structural images, from which cortical thickness was measured. We performed a vertex-based analysis across the entire cortical surface and a region-of-interest analysis of a priori hypothesized territories to measure cortical thickness and map correlations between this measure and SCR. We found significant, direct correlation between thickness of the vmPFC, specifically medial orbitofrontal cortex, and extinction retention. That is, thicker medial orbitofrontal cortex was associated with lower SCR to the conditioned stimulus during extinction recall (i.e., greater extinction memory). These results suggest that the size of the vmPFC might explain individual differences in the ability to modulate fear among humans.

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