Background and aim Preterm birth has been associated with psychiatric disorders involving emotion regulation, social competence and communicative skills throughout the first three decades of life. However, the exact neuro-anatomical mechanisms underlying socio-emotional impairments in individuals who were born very preterm (VPT) are still unknown. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the functional integrity of an emotion-processing brain network comprising the amygdala and prefrontal cortex and to test whether it correlated with participants’ capacity to recognise specific emotions.
Method 28 VPT born adults and 28 age-matched controls (mean age for both groups 29 years) were scanned at rest in a 3T scanner. Nuisance effects of head motion, whole-brain, CSF and white matter were removed from the preprocessed data and a seed-based analysis focusing on three amygdalar subregions (centro-medial/latero-basal/superficial) was performed using SPM8 (University College London). Participants’ ability to recognise specific emotions was assessed using dynamic stimuli of human faces expressing six basic emotions at different intensities (Emotion Recognition Task - ERT).
Results Preliminary analysis of resting state functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) data revealed that the centro-medial subdivision of the right amygdala showed less functional connectivity with the bilateral prefrontal cortex in preterm-born young adults compared to controls. Regarding performance on the ERT, the groups significantly differed in recognising anger in faces moving from a neutral expression to the lowest intensity of that emotion.
Discussion These findings suggest that reductions in the intrinsic connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex potentially underlie emotional deficits in preterm born individuals.
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