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Racial discrimination associates with lower cingulate cortex thickness in trauma-exposed black women

Abstract

Racial discrimination (RD) has been consistently linked to adverse brain health outcomes. These may be due in part to RD effects on neural networks involved with threat appraisal and regulation; RD has been linked to altered activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) and structural decrements in the anterior cingulum bundle and hippocampus. In the present study, we examined associations of RD with cingulate, hippocampus and amygdala gray matter morphology in a sample of trauma-exposed Black women. Eighty-one Black women aged 19–62 years were recruited as part of an ongoing study of trauma. Participants completed assessments of RD, trauma exposure, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and underwent T1-weighted anatomical imaging. Cortical thickness, surface area and gray matter volume were extracted from subregions of cingulate cortex, and gray matter volume was extracted from amygdala and hippocampus, and entered into partial correlation analyses that included RD and other socio-environmental variables. After correction for multiple comparisons and accounting for variance associated with other stressors and socio-environmental factors, participants with more RD exposure showed proportionally lower cortical thickness in the left rACC, caudal ACC, and posterior cingulate cortex (ps < = 0.01). These findings suggest that greater experiences of RD are linked to compromised cingulate gray matter thickness. In the context of earlier findings indicating that RD produces increased response in threat neurocircuitry, our data suggest that RD may increase vulnerability for brain health problems via cingulate cortex alterations. Further research is needed to elucidate biological mechanisms for these changes.

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Fig. 1: Racial discrimination is associated with reductions in cingulate gyrus thickness across regions after accounting for intracranial volume, childhood and adult trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and economic disadvantage.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to thank Allen Graham, Rebecca Hinrichs, Angelo Brown and other members of the Grady Trauma Project, as well as members of the Fani Affective Neuroscience Lab, for their assistance with data collection. We thank Timothy Ely for his technical assistance. We thank participants of the Grady Trauma Project for their time and involvement in this study.

Funding

This work was primarily supported by National Institute of Mental Health (MH101380 to NF, MH119603 to NGH, MH-071537 and MH094757 to KJR, HD071982 to BB) and National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (AT011267 to NF). Support was also received from the Emory Medical Care Foundation, Emory University Research Council, American Psychological Association, Society for Clinical Neuropsychology and the Frazier Foundation Grant for Mood and Anxiety Research at McLean Hospital, and the National Cancer Institute (CA220254-02S1).

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The authors confirm contribution to the paper as follows: study conception and design: NF, SC, KR, BB; data collection: NF, JS; analysis and interpretation of results: LE, NF, NGH, SEC, MP, SJHvR; draft manuscript preparation: LE, NF, NGH. All authors reviewed the results and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Negar Fani.

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KJR has received unrelated consulting income or sponsored research from Alkermes, Brainsway and Genomind, and is on scientific advisory boards for Janssen, Takeda, and Verily. The remaining authors have no financial conflicts of interest to disclose.

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Fani, N., Eghbalzad, L., Harnett, N.G. et al. Racial discrimination associates with lower cingulate cortex thickness in trauma-exposed black women. Neuropsychopharmacol. 47, 2230–2237 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-022-01445-8

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