The personality trait neuroticism is associated with increased vulnerability to anxiety and mood disorders, conditions linked with abnormal serotonin neurotransmission and emotional processing. The interaction between neuroticism and serotonin during emotional processing is however not understood. Here we investigate how individual neuroticism scores influence the neural response to negative emotional faces and their sensitivity to serotonergic tone. Twenty healthy participants performed an emotional face task under functional MRI on three occasions: increased serotonin tone following infusion of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), decreased serotonin tone following acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) protocol, and no serotonin challenge (control). During the task, participants performed a gender-discrimination task of neutral, fearful or angry facial expressions. Individual variations in neuroticism scores were associated with neural response of subgenual anterior cingulate cortex to fearful facial expressions. The association was however opposite under the two serotoninergic challenges. The fear-related response in this region and individual neuroticism scores correlated negatively during citalopram challenge and positively during ATD. Thus, neuroticism scores were associated with the relative impact of serotonin challenges on fear processing in subgenual anterior cingulate cortex. This finding may link to a neural mechanism for the variable therapeutic effect of SSRI treatment observed in clinical populations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)17889
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2018


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