Amygdala-prefrontal cortex white matter tracts are widespread, variable and implicated in amygdala modulation in adolescents

The amygdala is critically involved in processing emotion. Through bidirectional connections, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is hypothesized to influence amygdala reactivity. However, research that elucidates the nature of amygdala-PFC interactions – through mapping amygdala-prefrontal tracts, quantifying variability among tracts, and linking this variability to amygdala activation – is lacking. Using probabilistic tractography to map amygdala-prefrontal white matter connectivity in 142 adolescents, the present study found that white matter connectivity was greater between the amygdala and the subgenual cingulate, orbitofrontal (OFC), and dorsomedial (dmPFC) prefrontal regions than with the dorsal cingulate and dorsolateral regions. Then, using a machine-learning regression, we found that greater amygdala-PFC white matter connectivity related to attenuated amygdala reactivity. This effect was driven by amygdala white matter connectivity with the dmPFC and OFC, supporting implicit emotion processing theories which highlight the critical role of these regions in amygdala regulation. This study is among the first to map and compare specific amygdala-prefrontal white matter tracts and to relate variability in connectivity to amygdala activation, particularly among a large sample of adolescents from a well-sampled study. By examining the association between specific amygdala-PFC tracts and amygdala activation, the present study provides novel insight into the nature of this emotion-based circuit.