Acute-stress-induced change in salience network coupling prospectively predicts post-trauma symptom development

Wei Zhang, Reinoud Kaldewaij, Mahur M. Hashemi, Saskia B.J. Koch, Annika Smit, Vanessa A. van Ast, Christian F. Beckmann, Floris Klumpers, Karin Roelofs

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Substantial individual differences exist in how acute stress affects large-scale neurocognitive networks, including salience (SN), default mode (DMN), and central executive networks (CEN). Changes in the connectivity strength of these networks upon acute stress may predict vulnerability to long-term stress effects, which can only be tested in prospective longitudinal studies. Using such longitudinal design, we investigated whether the magnitude of acute-stress-induced functional connectivity changes (delta-FC) predicts the development of post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD) symptoms in a relatively resilient group of young police students that are known to be at high risk for trauma exposure. Using resting-state fMRI, we measured acute-stress-induced delta-FC in 190 police recruits before (baseline) and after trauma exposure during repeated emergency-aid services (16-month follow-up). Delta-FC was then linked to the changes in perceived stress levels (PSS) and post-traumatic stress symptoms (PCL and CAPS). Weakened connectivity between the SN and DMN core regions upon acute-stress induction at baseline predicted longitudinal increases in perceived-stress level but not of post-traumatic stress symptoms, whereas increased coupling between the overall SN and anterior cerebellum was observed in participants with higher clinician-rated PTSD symptoms, particularly intrusion levels. All the effects remained significant when controlling for trauma-exposure levels and cortisol-stress reactivity. Neither hormonal nor subjective measures exerted similar predictive or acquired effects. The reconfiguration of large-scale neural networks upon acute-stress induction is relevant for assessing and detecting risk and resilience factors for PTSD. This study highlights the SN connectivity-changes as a potential marker for trauma-related symptom development, which is sensitive even in a relatively resilient sample.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2022

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