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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

The Behavioural Inhibition System, anxiety and hippocampal volume in a non-clinical population

Liat Levita1*, Catherine Bois23, Andrew Healey2, Emily Smyllie2, Evelina Papakonstantinou2, Tom Hartley2 and Colin Lever4

Author Affiliations

1 Present address: Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK

2 Department of Psychology, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK

3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH10 5HF, UK

4 Department of Psychology, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

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Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2014, 4:4  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-4-4

Published: 7 March 2014

Abstract

Background

Animal studies have suggested that the hippocampus may play an important role in anxiety as part of the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS), which mediates reactivity to threat and punishment and can predict an individual’s response to anxiety-relevant cues in a given environment. The aim of the present structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study was to examine the relationship between individual differences in BIS and hippocampal structure, since this has not received sufficient attention in non-clinical populations. Thirty healthy right-handed participants with no history of alcohol or drug abuse, neurological or psychiatric disorders, or traumatic brain injury were recruited (16 male, 14 female, age 18 to 32 years). T1-weighted structural MRI scans were used to derive estimates of total intracranial volume, and hippocampal and amygdala gray matter volume using FreeSurfer. To relate brain structure to Gray’s BIS, participants completed the Sensitivity to Punishment questionnaire. They also completed questionnaires assessing other measures potentially associated with hippocampal volume (Beck Depression Inventory, Negative Life Experience Survey), and two other measures of anxiety (Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Anxiety Inventory).

Results

We found that high scores on the Sensitivity to Punishment scale were positively associated with hippocampal volume, and that this phenomenon was lateralized to the right side. In other words, greater levels of behavioural inhibition (BIS) were positively associated with right hippocampal volume.

Conclusions

Our data suggest that hippocampal volume is related to the cognitive and affective dimensions of anxiety indexed by the Sensitivity to Punishment, and support the idea that morphological differences in the hippocampal formation may be associated with behavioural inhibition contributions to anxiety.

Keywords:
Anxiety; Behavioural Inhibition System; Sensitivity to Punishment; Structural MRI; Hippocampus; Amygdala