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Amygdala volume and social anxiety symptom severity: Does segmentation technique matter?

Highlights•Freesurfer produced larger amygdala volumes than manual correction did.•Freesurfer is likely to position boundaries more liberally when image quality is low.•Manual editing procedures that are specific to subcortical structures are valuable.•Regardless of segmentation technique, amygdala volume was not associated with social anxiety.AbstractThe amygdala factors prominently in neurobiological models of social anxiety (SA), yet amygdala volume findings regarding SA have been inconsistent and largely focused on case-control characterization. One source of discrepant findings could be variability in volumetric techniques. Therefore, we compared amygdala volumes derived via an automated technique (Freesurfer) against a manually corrected approach, also involving Freesurfer. Additionally, we tested whether the relationship between volume and SA symptom severity would differ across volumetric techniques. We pooled participants (n = 76) from archival studies. SA severity was assessed with the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale; scores ranged from non-clinical to clinical levels. Freesurfer produced significantly larger amygdalar volumes for participants with poor image quality. Even after excluding such participants, paired sample t-tests showed Freesurfer's boundaries produced significantly larger amygdalar volumes than manually corrected ones, bilaterally. Yet, intra-class correlation coefficients between the two methods were high, which suggests that Freesurfer's over-estimation of amygdala volume was systemic. Regardless of segmentation technique, volumes were not associated with SA symptom severity. Potentially, amygdala sub-regions may yield clearer patterns regarding SA symptoms. Further, our study underscores the importance of image quality for segmentation of the amygdala, and image quality may be particularly valuable when examining anatomical data for subtle inter-individual differences.

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