Subcortical gray matter volumes in asthma: associations with asthma duration, control, and anxiety

Thomas Ritz, Juliet L. Kroll, Sina Aslan, Thomas Janssens, David A. Khan, Amy E. Pinkham, E. Sherwood Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Asthma as a chronic inflammatory disease can be expected to affect central nervous system structures but little is known about subcortical structures in asthma and their potential association with illness-specific outcomes and anxiety. A total of 40 young adults (20 with asthma and 20 gender- and age-matched controls) underwent high-resolution T1-weighted MRI scan, viewed short distressing film clips, and filled in questionnaires about anxious and depressed mood, as well as asthma history, control, and catastrophizing thoughts about asthma, for those with asthma. The structural scans were processed in FSL’s FIRST program to delineate subcortical structures of interest: amygdala, hippocampus, putamen, pallidum, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, and thalamus. Findings showed no general reduction in subcortical gray matter volumes in asthma compared to controls. Asthma duration, asthma control, and catastrophizing of asthma and asthma attacks were negatively associated with volumes of putamen and pallidum, and to a weaker extent thalamus and amygdala, while controlling for gender, age, and corticosteroid inhaler use. In addition, stronger anxiety in response to distressing films was associated with lower volume of the pallidum, whereas general anxious and depressed mood was unrelated to subcortical structures. Thus, although there are no subcortical structural differences between young adults with asthma and healthy controls, longer asthma history, suboptimal management, and illness-related anxiety are reflected in lower gray matter volumes of subcortical structures, further emphasizing the importance of maintaining optimal asthma control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2341-2350
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Asthma management
  • Basal ganglia
  • Gray matter volume
  • Limbic system
  • Structural magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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