Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; Neuroscience Training Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; HealthEmotion Research Institute, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. Electronic address: [Email]
BACKGROUND : Anxious temperament (AT) is an early-life heritable trait that predisposes individuals to develop anxiety and depressive disorders. Our previous work in preadolescent children suggests alterations in the uncinate fasciculus (UF), the white matter tract that connects prefrontal with limbic regions, in boys with anxiety disorders. Here, using a nonhuman primate model of AT, we tested whether this sexually dimorphic finding is evolutionarily conserved and examined the extent to which heritable and environmental influences contribute to UF microstructure. METHODS : Diffusion tensor images were collected in 581 young rhesus monkeys (1.89 ± 0.77 years old; 43.9% female). Using tract-based analyses, we assessed the relationship among AT, UF microstructure (as measured with fractional anisotropy), and sex. Heritability of tract microstructure was determined using oligogenic linkage analysis of this large multigenerational pedigree. RESULTS : We predicted and found a negative relation between AT and UF fractional anisotropy in male but not female monkeys (AT × sex; p = .032, 1-tailed). Additionally, heritability analyses revealed that variation in UF fractional anisotropy was largely due to nonheritable factors (h2 = 0.185, p = .077). CONCLUSIONS : These results demonstrate a cross-species, male-specific relation between UF microstructure and anxiety and provide a potential substrate for anxiety-related prefrontal-limbic dysregulation. The heritability analyses point to the importance of environmental influences on UF microstructure, which could be important in mediating the nonheritable components of pathological anxiety. These findings have the potential to guide new treatment strategies for childhood anxiety disorders and further support the use of nonhuman primates as a translational model to discover mechanisms underlying the development of anxiety.