BackgroundDespite considerable effort, the neurobiological underpinnings of hyper-responsive threat processing specific to patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) remain poorly understood. The current functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study aims to delineate GAD-specific brain activity during immediate threat processing by comparing GAD patients to healthy controls (HC), to social anxiety disorder (SAD) and to panic disorder (PD) patients.
MethodBrain activation and functional connectivity patterns to threat vs. neutral pictures were investigated using event-related fMRI. The sample consisted of 21 GAD, 21 PD, 21 SAD and 21 HC.
ResultsGAD-specific elevated activity to threat vs. neutral pictures was found in cingulate cortex, dorsal anterior insula/frontal operculum (daI/FO) and posterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). Defining these effects as seed regions, we detected GAD-specific increased functional connectivity to threat vs. neutral pictures between posterior dlPFC and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, between cingulate cortex and amygdala, between cingulate cortex and anterior insula, as well as decreased functional connectivity between daI/FO and mid-dlPFC.
ConclusionThe findings present the first evidence for GAD-specific neural correlates of hyper-responsive threat processing, possibly reflecting exaggerated threat sensitivity, maladaptive appraisal and attention-allocation processes.
SUBMITTER: Buff C