Cumulative Adversity sensitizes neural response to acute stress: Association with health symptoms

Dongju Seo, Kristen A. Tsou, Emily B. Ansell, Marc N. Potenza, Rajita Sinha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Cumulative adversity (CA) increases stress sensitivity and risk of adverse health outcomes. However, neural mechanisms underlying these associations in humans remain unclear. To understand neural responses underlying the link between CA and adverse health symptoms, the current study assessed brain activity during stress and neutral-relaxing states in 75 demographically matched, healthy individuals with high, mid, and low CA (25 in each group), and their health symptoms using the Cornell Medical Index. CA was significantly associated with greater adverse health symptoms (P=0.01) in all participants. Functional magnetic resonance imaging results indicated significant associations between CA scores and increased stress-induced activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, insula, striatum, right amygdala, hippocampus, and temporal regions in all 75 participants (p<0.05, whole-brain corrected). In addition to these regions, the high vs low CA group comparison revealed decreased stress-induced activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in the high CA group (p<0.01, whole-brain corrected). Specifically, hypoactive medial OFC and hyperactive right hippocampus responses to stress were each significantly associated with greater adverse health symptoms (p<0.01). Furthermore, an inverse correlation was found between activity in the medial OFC and right hippocampus (p=0.01). These results indicate that high CA sensitizes limbic-striatal responses to acute stress and also identifies an important role for stress-related medial OFC and hippocampus responses in the effects of CA on increasing vulnerability to adverse health consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)670-680
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • cumulative adversity
  • health problems
  • hippocampus
  • orbitofrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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