Date of Award

Spring 5-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Research suggests that early life stress (ELS) promotes psychopathology, at least in part, by influencing amygdala function and structure. Converging evidence across species suggests that links between ELS and the amygdala function and structure may be dependent upon hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. Using data (n=308) from the ongoing Duke Neurogenetics Study (DNS), we evaluated whether ELS (measured by the childhood trauma questionnaire) and a genetic biologically-informed multilocus profile score (BIMPS) reflective of HPA axis function (FKBP5 rs1360780, CRHBP rs10473984, and CRHR1 rs110402; NR3C2 haplotype rs5522/NR3C2 rs4635799) predict variability in threat-related (emotional face matching task) amygdala function and gray matter volume. A significant BIMPS x ELS interaction predicted right amygdala structure and threat-related reactivity. Individuals with higher BIMPS and greater exposure to ELS had relatively increased amygdala reactivity and reduced right amygdala volume; however, with lower exposure to ELS, higher BIMPS was associated with reduced right amygdala reactivity and greater gray matter volume. There was no association between amygdala gray matter volume and function. These data suggest that genetic variation linked to HPA axis function may confer susceptibility to stress-related psychopathology through its moderating influence on associations between early life stress and amygdala function and structure.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Ryan Bogdan

Committee Members

Deanna Barch, Denise Head, Arpana Argawal


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