A specific neural substrate predicting current and future impulsivity in young adults.
Impulsivity (rash action with deleterious outcomes) is common to many psychiatric disorders. While some studies indicate altered amygdala and prefrontal cortical (PFC) activity associated with impulsivity, it remains unclear whether these patterns of neural activity are specific to impulsivity or common to a range of affective and anxiety symptoms. To elucidate neural markers specific to impulsivity, we aimed to differentiate patterns of amygdala-PFC activity and functional connectivity associated with impulsivity from those associated with affective and anxiety symptoms, and identify measures of this circuitry predicting future worsening of impulsivity. Using a face emotion processing task that reliably activates amygdala-PFC circuitry, neural activity and connectivity were assessed in a transdiagnostically-recruited sample of young adults, including healthy (N = 47) and treatment-seeking individuals (N = 67). Relationships were examined between neural measures and impulsivity, anhedonia, and affective and anxiety symptoms at baseline (N = 114), and at 6 months post scan (N = 30). Impulsivity, particularly negative urgency and lack of perseverance, was related to greater amygdala activity (beta = 0.82, p = 0.003; beta = 0.68, p = 0.004; respectively) and lower amygdala-medial PFC functional connectivity (voxels = 60, t = 4.45, p = 0.017; voxels = 335, t = 5.26, p = 0.001; respectively) to facial fear. Left vlPFC, but not amygdala, activity to facial anger was inversely associated with mania/hypomania (beta = -2.08, p = 0.018). Impulsivity 6 months later was predicted by amygdala activity to facial sadness (beta = 0.50, p = 0.017). There were no other significant relationships between neural activity and 6-month anhedonia, affective, and anxiety symptoms. Our findings are the first to associate amygdala-PFC activity and functional connectivity with impulsivity in a large, transdiagnostic sample, providing neural targets for future interventions to reduce predisposition to impulsivity and related future mental health problems in young adults.