The association between cortisol and the BOLD response in male adolescents undergoing fMRI

Esther H H Keulers*, Peter Stiers, Nancy A. Nicolson, Jelle Jolles

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    MRI participation has been shown to induce subjective and neuroendocrine stress reactions. A recent aging study showed that cortisol levels during fMRI have an age-dependent effect on cognitive performance and brain functioning. The present study examined whether this age-specific influence of cortisol on behavioral and brain activation levels also applies to adolescence. Salivary cortisol as well as subjective experienced anxiety were assessed during the practice session, at home, and before, during and after the fMRI session in young versus old male adolescents. Cortisol levels were enhanced pre-imaging relative to during and post-imaging in both age groups, suggesting anticipatory stress and anxiety. Overall, a negative correlation was found between cortisol output during the fMRI experiment and brain activation magnitude during performance of a gambling task. In young but not in old adolescents, higher cortisol output was related to stronger deactivation of clusters in the anterior and posterior cingulate cortex. In old but not in young adolescents, a negative correlation was found between cortisol and activation in the inferior parietal and in the superior frontal cortex. In sum, cortisol increased the deactivation of several brain areas, although the location of the affected areas in the brain was age-dependent. The present findings suggest that cortisol output during fMRI should be considered as confounder and integrated in analyzing developmental changes in brain activation during adolescence.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalBrain Research
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2015


    • Adolescence
    • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
    • HPA axis
    • Individual differences
    • Psychological stress and anxiety
    • Salivary cortisol


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