Maternal cortisol is associated with neonatal amygdala microstructure and connectivity in a sexually dimorphic manner

David Q Stoye, Manuel Blesa, Gemma Sullivan, Paola Galdi, Gillian J. Lamb, Gill S. Black, Alan J Quigley, Michael J Thrippleton, Mark E Bastin, Rebecca M Reynolds, James P Boardman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The mechanisms linking maternal stress in pregnancy with infant neurodevelopment in a sexually dimorphic manner are poorly understood. We tested the hypothesis that maternal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, measured by hair cortisol concentration (HCC), is associated with microstructure, structural connectivity, and volume of the infant amygdala. In 78 mother-infant dyads, maternal hair was sampled postnatally, and infants underwent magnetic resonance imaging at term-equivalent age. We found a relationship between maternal HCC and amygdala development that differed according to infant sex. Higher HCC was associated with higher left amygdala fractional anisotropy (β = 0.677, p=0.010), lower left amygdala orientation dispersion index (β = −0.597, p=0.034), and higher fractional anisotropy in connections between the right amygdala and putamen (β = 0.475, p=0.007) in girls compared to boys. Furthermore, altered amygdala microstructure was only observed in boys, with connectivity changes restricted to girls. Maternal cortisol during pregnancy is related to newborn amygdala architecture and connectivity in a sexually dimorphic manner. Given the fundamental role of the amygdala in the emergence of emotion regulation, these findings offer new insights into mechanisms linking maternal health with neuropsychiatric outcomes of children.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere60729
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number9
Early online date24 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Nov 2020


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