Diurnal cortisol amplitude and fronto-limbic activity in response to stressful stimuli

Amy C. Cunningham-Bussel, James C. Root, Tracy Butler, Oliver Tuescher, Hong Pan, Jane Epstein, Daniel S. Weisholtz, Michelle Pavony, Michael E. Silverman, Martin S. Goldstein, Margaret Altemus, Marylene Cloitre, Joseph LeDoux, Bruce McEwen, Emily Stern, David Silbersweig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The development and exacerbation of many psychiatric and neurologic conditions are associated with dysregulation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis as measured by aberrant levels of cortisol secretion. Here we report on the relationship between the amplitude of diurnal cortisol secretion, measured across 3 typical days in 18 healthy individuals, and blood oxygen level dependant (BOLD) response in limbic fear/stress circuits, elicited by in-scanner presentation of emotionally negative stimuli, specifically, images of the World Trade Center (WTC) attack. Results indicate that subjects who secrete a greater amplitude of cortisol diurnally demonstrate less brain activation in limbic regions, including the amygdala and hippocampus/parahippocampus, and hypothalamus during exposure to traumatic WTC-related images. Such initial findings can begin to link our understanding, in humans, of the relationship between the diurnal amplitude of a hormone integral to the stress response, and those neuroanatomical regions that are implicated as both modulating and being modulated by that response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)694-704
Number of pages11
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Amygdala
  • Cortisol
  • Hippocampus
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Neuroimaging
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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