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Cognitive processing biases, such as increased attention to threat, are gaining recognition as causal factors in anxiety. Yet, little is known about the anatomical pathway by which threat biases cognition and how genetic factors might influence the integrity of this pathway, and thus, behavior. For 40 normative adults, we reconstructed the entire amygdalo-prefrontal white matter tract (uncinate fasciculus) using diffusion tensor weighted MRI and probabilistic tractography to test the hypothesis that greater fiber integrity correlates with greater nonconscious attention bias to threat as measured by a backward masked dot-probe task. We used path analysis to investigate the relationship between brain-derived nerve growth factor genotype, uncinate fasciculus integrity, and attention bias behavior. Greater structural integrity of the amygdalo-prefrontal tract correlates with facilitated attention bias to nonconscious threat. Genetic variability associated with brain-derived nerve growth factor appears to influence the microstructure of this pathway and, in turn, attention bias to nonconscious threat. These results suggest that the integrity of amygdalo-prefrontal projections underlie nonconscious attention bias to threat and mediate genetic influence on attention bias behavior. Prefrontal cognition and attentional processing in high bias individuals appear to be heavily influenced by nonconscious threat signals relayed via the uncinate fasciculus.
Carlson JM, Cha J, Harmon-Jones E, et al. (2014). Influence of the BDNF genotype on amygdalo-prefrontal white matter microstructure is linked to nonconscious attention bias to threat. Cerebral Cortex. 24(9). 2249–2257. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht089