The neural correlates of Neuroticism differ by sex prospectively mediate depressive symptoms among older women

Angelina R. Sutin, Lori L. Beason-Held, Vonetta M. Dotson, Susan M. Resnick, Paul T. Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Mood disorders in old age increase the risk of morbidity and mortality for individuals and healthcare costs for society. Trait Neuroticism, a strong risk factor for such disorders into old age, shares common genetic variance with depression, but the more proximal biological mechanisms that mediate this connection are not well understood. Further, whether sex differences in the neural correlates of Neuroticism mirror sex differences in behavioral measures is unknown. The present research identifies sex differences in the stable neural activity associated with Neuroticism and tests whether this activity prospectively mediates Neuroticism and subsequent depressive symptoms. Methods: A total of 100 (46 female) older participants (> 55 years) underwent a resting-state PET scan twice, approximately two years apart, and completed measures of Neuroticism and depressive symptoms twice. Results: Replicating at both time points, Neuroticism correlated positively with resting-state regional cerebral blood-flow activity in the hippocampus and midbrain in women and the middle temporal gyrus in men. For women, hippocampal activity mediated the association between Neuroticism at baseline and depressive symptoms at follow-up. The reverse mediational model was not significant. Conclusions: Neuroticism was associated with stable neural activity in regions implicated in emotional processing and regulation for women but not men. Among women, Neuroticism prospectively predicted depressive symptoms through greater activity in the right hippocampus, suggesting one neural mechanism between Neuroticism and depression for women. Identifying responsible mechanisms for the association between Neuroticism and psychiatric disorders may help guide research on pharmacological interventions for such disorders across the lifespan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-247
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Depression
  • Hippocampus
  • Mediation
  • Neuroticism
  • PET imaging
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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