Functionally, anxiety serves to increase vigilance towards aversive stimuli and improve the ability to detect and avoid danger. We have recently shown, for instance, that anxiety increases the ability to a) detect and b) instigate defensive responses towards aversive and not appetitive face stimuli in healthy individuals. This is arguably the key adaptive function of anxiety, yet the neural circuitry underlying this valence-specific effect is unknown. In the present translational study, we sought evidence for the proposition that dorsomedial regions of the prefrontal (DMPFC) and cingulate cortex constitute the human homologue of the rodent prelimbic and are thus associated with increased amygdala responding during this adaptive threat bias in anxiety. To this end, we applied a novel functional connectivity analysis to healthy subjects (N=20) identifying the emotion of fearful and happy faces in an fMRI scanner under anxious (threat of unpredictable foot shock) and non-anxious (safe) conditions. We showed that anxiety significantly increased positive DMPFC-amygdala connectivity during the processing of fearful faces. This effect was a) valence-specific (it was not seen for happy faces), b) paralleled by faster behavioral response to fearful faces, and c) correlated positively with trait anxiety. As such we provide the first experimental support for an anxiety-mediated, valence-specific, DMPFC-amygdala aversive amplification mechanism in healthy humans. This may be homologous to the rodent prelimbic-amygdala circuit and may, given the relationship with trait anxiety, underlie vulnerability to anxiety disorders. This study thus pinpoints a key neural mechanism in adaptive anxiety and highlights its potential link to maladaptive anxiety.
amygdala; dMPFC; functional connectivity; prelimbic; anxiety; threat bias
Anxiety has wide reaching effects on cognition; evidenced most prominently by the “difficulties concentrating” seen in anxiety disorders, and by adaptive harm-avoidant behaviors adopted under threatening circumstances. Despite having critical implications for daily-living, the precise impact of anxiety on cognition is as yet poorly quantified. Here we attempt to clarify the impact of anxiety on sustained attention and response inhibition via a translational anxiety induction in healthy individuals (N = 22). Specifically, in a within-subjects design, participants completed the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) in which subjects withhold responses to infrequent no-go stimuli under threat of unpredictable electrical shock (anxious) and safe (non-anxious) conditions. Different studies have argued that this task measures either (1) attention lapses due to off-task thinking or (2) response inhibition; two cognitive functions which are likely impacted by anxiety. We show that threat of shock significantly reduces errors of commission on the no-go trials relative to the safe condition whilst having no effect on go trials or overall reaction time (RT). We suggest that this is because threat of shock during SART promotes response inhibition. In particular we argue that, by virtue of frequency, subjects acquire a habitual bias toward a go response which impairs no-go performance and that threat of shock improves the ability to withhold these prepotent responses. This improved response inhibition likely falls within the range of adaptive cognitive functions which promote cautious harm avoidance under threatening conditions, although a range of alternative explanations for this effect is discussed.
anxiety; threat; threat of shock; response inhibition; mind-wandering
Fearful faces readily activate the amygdala. Yet, whether fearful faces evoke fear is unclear. Startle studies show no potentiation of startle by fearful faces, suggesting that such stimuli do not activate defense mechanisms. However, the response to biologically relevant stimuli may be sensitized by anxiety. The present study tested the hypothesis that startle would not be potentiated by fearful faces in a safe context, but that startle would be larger during fearful faces compared to neutral faces in a threat-of-shock context. Subjects viewed fearful and neutral faces in alternating periods of safety and threat of shock. Acoustic startle stimuli were presented in the presence and absence of the faces. Startle was transiently potentiated by fearful faces compared to neutral faces in the threat periods. This suggests that although fearful faces do not prompt behavioral mobilization in an innocuous context, they can do so in an anxiogenic one.
Fear; Anxiety; Startle reflex; Fearful face
Major questions remain about the specific role of testosterone in human spatial navigation. We tested 10 boys (mean age 11.65 years) with an extremely rare disorder of androgen excess (Familial Male Precocious Puberty, FMPP) and 40 healthy boys (mean age 12.81 years) on a virtual version of the Morris Water Maze task. In addition, anatomical magnetic resonance images were collected for all patients and a subsample of the controls (n=21) after task completion. Behaviourally, no significant differences were found between both groups. However, in the MRI analyses, grey matter volume (GMV) was correlated with performance using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). Group differences in correlations of performance with GMV were apparent in medial regions of the prefrontal cortex as well as the middle occipital gyrus and the cuneus. By comparison, similar correlations for both groups were found in the inferior parietal lobule. These data provide novel insight into the relation between testosterone and brain development and suggest that morphological differences in a spatial navigation network covary with performance in spatial ability.
testosterone; spatial navigation; development; familial male precocious puberty; VBM; virtual water maze
A detailed understanding of how individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) respond physiologically under social-evaluative threat is lacking. We aimed to isolate the specific components of public speaking that trigger fear in vulnerable individuals and best discriminate among SAD and healthy individuals.
Sixteen individuals diagnosed with SAD and 16 healthy individuals were asked to prepare and deliver a short speech in a virtual reality (VR) environment. The VR environment simulated standing center stage before a live audience and allowed us to gradually introduce social cues during speech anticipation. Startle eye-blink responses were elicited periodically by white noise bursts presented during anticipation, speech delivery, and recovery in VR, as well as outside VR during an initial habituation phase.
SAD individuals reported greater distress and state anxiety than healthy individuals across the entire procedure (ps < .005). Analyses of startle reactivity revealed a robust group difference during speech anticipation in VR, specifically as audience members directed their eye gaze and turned their attention toward participants (p < .05, Bonferroni corrected).
The VR environment is sufficiently realistic to provoke fear and anxiety in individuals highly vulnerable to socially threatening situations. SAD individuals showed potentiated startle, indicative of a strong phasic fear response, specifically when they perceived themselves as occupying the focus of others' attention as speech time approached. Potentiated startle under social-evaluative threat indexes SAD-related fear of negative evaluation.
Research has highlighted the need for new methods to assess emotions in children on multiple levels in order to gain better insight into the complex processes of emotional development. The startle reflex is a unique translational tool that has been utilized to study physiological processes during fear and anxiety in rodents and in human subjects. However, it has been challenging to implement developmentally-appropriate startle experiments in children. This paper describes a procedure that uses predictable and unpredictable aversive events to distinguish between phasic fear and sustained anxiety in children and adolescents. We investigated anxious responses, as measured with the startle reflex, in youth (N = 36, mean age[range] = 12.63 [7–17]) across three conditions: no aversive events (N), predictable aversive events (P), and unpredictable aversive events (U). Short-duration cues were presented several times in each condition. Aversive events were signaled by the cues in P, but were presented randomly in U. Participants showed fear-potentiated startle to the threat cue in P. Startle responses were also elevated between cues in U compared to N, suggesting that unpredictable aversive events can evoke a sustained state of anxiety in youth. This latter effect was influenced by sex, being greater in girls compared to boys. These findings indicate the feasibility of this experimental induction of the startle reflex in response to predictable and unpredictable events in children and adolescents, enabling future research on inter-individual differences in fear and anxiety and their development in youth.
fear; anxiety; unpredictability; psychophysiology; startle reflex; sex differences
Preclinical evidence implicates several neurotransmitter systems in the extinction of conditioned fear. These results are of great interest, because the reduction of acquired fear associations is critical in therapies for anxiety disorders. We tested whether findings with respect to the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and cannabinoid receptor (CB) systems in animals carry over to healthy human subjects. To that end, we administered selected doses of D-cycloserine (partial NMDA receptor agonist, 250 mg), delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, CB1 receptor agonist, 10 mg), or placebo prior to the extinction session of a 3-day conditioning protocol. D-cycloserine did not affect within-session extinction, or the retention of extinction in healthy human participants, in contrast with patient data but in line with previous reports in healthy volunteers. During extinction training, Δ9-THC reduced conditioned skin conductance responses, but not fear-potentiated startle. This effect was not retained at the retention test 2 days later, suggesting it was dependent on acute effects of the drug. Our findings implicate that facilitation of the CB1 or NMDA system with the substances used in this study does not affect conditioned fear extinction lastingly in healthy humans. The apparent discrepancy between these findings and the results from (pre-) clinical trials is discussed in terms of room for improvement in these systems in healthy volunteers, and the lack of specificity of THC as a CB1 agonist.
Δ9-THC; d-cycloserine; extinction; fear conditioning; fear-potentiated startle; human
The threat of predictable and unpredictable aversive events was developed to assess short-duration (fear) and long-duration (anxiety) aversive states in humans. A typical experiment consists of three conditions: a safe condition (neutral (N)), during which participants are safe from aversive stimuli, and two threat conditions—one in which aversive events are administered predictably (P) (i.e., signaled by a threat cue), and one in which aversive stimuli are administered unpredictably (U). During the so-called NPU -threat test, ongoing change in aversive states is measured with the startle reflex. The NPU -threat test has been validated in pharmacological and clinical studies and can be implemented in children and adults. Similar procedures have been applied in animal models, making the NPU -threat test an ideal tool for translational research. The procedure is relatively short (35 min), simple to implement and generates consistent results with large effect sizes.
Amygdala reactivity to threat-related distractor stimuli can be abolished in perceptually-demanding contexts. Premised on the biological imperative to respond swiftly to threat, we demonstrate, however, that when participants are threatened by shock, greater amygdala responses to fearful compared to neutral distractor faces is preserved under conditions of high attentional demand. Lateral prefrontal cortices also showed selective responding to fearful distractor faces under these conditions, suggesting that threat-related distractor stimuli engaged attentional control mechanisms. We conclude that anxiety elicited by looming threat promotes neurocognitive processes that broaden attention and enhance sensitivity to potential danger cues, even when perceptual systems are taxed.
amygdala; anxiety; attention; fearful faces; perceptual load; prefrontal cortices
Anxious individuals exhibit threat biases at multiple levels of information processing. From a developmental perspective, abnormal safety learning in childhood may establish threat-related appraisal biases early, which may contribute to chronic disorders in adulthood. The current review illustrates how the interface among attention, threat appraisal, and fear learning can generate novel insights for outcome prediction. This review summarizes data on amygdala function, as it relates to learning and attention, highlights the importance of examining threat appraisal, and introduces a novel imaging paradigm to investigate the neural correlates of threat appraisal and threat-sensitivity during extinction recall. This novel paradigm can be used to investigate key questions relevant to prognosis and treatment.
fear conditioning; generalization; attention; amygdala; ventromedial prefrontal cortex
In the conditioned fear paradigm, repeated pairing of an aversive unconditioned stimulus (US) (e.g. electric shock) with a neutral conditioned stimulus (CS) (e.g. bright light) results in a conditioned fear response to the light alone. Animal studies have shown that the amygdala plays a critical role in acquisition of conditioned fear responses, while the medial prefrontal cortex (including anterior cingulate), through inhibition of amygdala responsiveness, has been hypothesized to play a role in extinction of fear responses. No studies have examined neural correlates of fear conditioning and extinction in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Women with early childhood sexual-abuse-related PTSD (n=8) and women without abuse or PTSD (n=11) underwent measurement of psychophysiological (skin conductance) responding as well as positron emission tomographic (PET) measurement of cerebral blood flow during habituation, acquisition and extinction conditions. During habituation subjects were repeatedly exposed to a blue square on a screen. During acquisition, exposure to the blue square (CS) was paired with an electric shock to the forearm (US). With extinction, subjects were again exposed to the blue squares without shock. On a different day subjects went through the same procedure with electric shocks administered randomly in the absence of the blue square.
Skin conductance responding to the CS was consistent with the development of conditioned responses with this paradigm. PTSD patients had increased left amygdala activation with fear acquisition, and decreased anterior cingulate function during extinction, relative to controls.
These findings implicate amygdala and anterior cingulate in the acquisition and extinction of fear responses, respectively, in PTSD.
Individuals with anxiety disorders demonstrate altered cognitive performance including (1) cognitive biases towards negative stimuli (affective biases) and (2) increased cognitive rigidity (e.g., impaired conflict adaptation) on affective Stroop tasks. Threat of electric shock is frequently used to induce anxiety in healthy individuals, but the extent to which this manipulation mimics the cognitive impairment seen in anxiety disorders is unclear. In this study, 31 healthy individuals completed an affective Stroop task under safe and threat-of-shock conditions. We showed that threat (1) enhanced aversive processing and abolished a positive affective bias but (2) had no effect on conflict adaptation. Threat of shock thus partially models the effects of anxiety disorders on affective Stroop tasks. We suggest that the affective state of anxiety—which is common to both threat and anxiety disorders—modulates the neural inhibition of subcortical aversive processing, whilst pathologies unique to anxiety disorders modulate conflict adaptation.
Anxiety; Threat of shock; Affective bias; Conflict adaptation; Resilience; BIS/BAS
Dysfunction of the hippocampus has long been suspected to be a key component of the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder. Despite evidence of hippocampal structural abnormalities in depressed patients, abnormal hippocampal functioning has not been demonstrated. We aimed to link spatial navigation deficits previously documented in depressed patients to abnormal hippocampal functioning using a virtual reality navigation task.
Whole-head magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings were collected while participants – 19 patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder and 19 healthy controls, matched by gender and age – navigated a virtual Morris water maze to find a hidden platform, and a visible one as a control condition. Behavioral measures were taken to assess navigation performance. Theta oscillatory activity (4-8 Hz) was mapped across the brain on a voxel-wise basis using a spatial-filtering MEG source analysis technique.
Depressed patients performed worse than controls in navigating to the hidden platform. Robust group differences in theta activity were observed in right medial temporal cortices during navigation, with patients exhibiting less engagement of the anterior hippocampus and parahippocampal cortices compared to controls. Left posterior hippocampal theta activity was positively correlated with individual performance within each group.
Consistent with previous findings, depressed patients showed impaired spatial navigation. Dysfunction of right anterior hippocampus and parahippocampal cortices may underlie this deficit and stem from structural abnormalities commonly found in depressed patients.
The debilitating effects of chronic glucocorticoids excess are well-known, but comparatively little is understood about the role of acute cortisol. Indirect evidence in rodents suggests that acute cortisone could selectively increase some forms of long-duration aversive states, such as “anxiety,” but not relatively similar, briefer aversive states, such as “fear.” However, no prior experimental studies in humans consider the unique effects of cortisol on anxiety and fear, using well-validated methods for eliciting these two similar but dissociable aversive states. The current study examines these effects, as instantiated with short- and long-duration threats.
Healthy volunteers (n = 18) received placebo or a low (20 mg) or a high (60 mg) dose of hydrocortisone in a double-blind crossover design. Subjects were exposed repeatedly to three 150-sec duration conditions: no shock; predictable shocks, in which shocks were signaled by a short-duration threat cue; and unpredictable shocks. Aversive states were indexed by acoustic startle. Fear was operationally defined as the increase in startle reactivity during the threat cue in the predictable condition (fear-potentiated startle). Anxiety was operationally defined as the increase in baseline startle from the no shock to the two threat conditions (anxiety-potentiated startle).
Hydrocortisone affected neither baseline nor short-duration, fear-potentiated startle but increased long-duration anxiety-potentiated startle.
These results suggest that hydrocortisone administration in humans selectively increases anxiety but not fear. Possible mechanisms implicated are discussed in light of prior data in rodents. Specifically, hydrocortisone might increase anxiety via sensitization of corticotrophin-releasing hormones in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis.
Amygdala; anxiety; BNST; corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH); cortisol; fear; predictability; startle reflex
Impaired function of the central gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system, which provides the brain’s major inhibitory pathways, is thought to play an important role in the pathophysiology of anxiety disorders. The effect of acute psychological stress on the human GABA-ergic system is still unknown, however. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of acute stress on prefrontal GABA levels.
A recently developed noninvasive magnetic resonance spectroscopy method was used to measure changes in the GABA concentration of the prefrontal cortex in 10 healthy human subjects during a threat-of-shock condition and during a safe condition (two sessions on different days). The main outcome measure was the mean GABA concentration within a 3×3×2-cm3 voxel selected from the medial prefrontal cortex.
Prefrontal GABA decreased by approximately 18% in the threat-of-shock condition relative to the safe condition. This reduction was specific to GABA, since the concentrations of N-acetyl-aspartate, choline-containing compounds, and glutamate/glutamine levels obtained in the same spectra did not change significantly.
This result appeared compatible with evidence from preclinical studies in rodents, which showed rapid presynaptic down-regulation of GABA-ergic neurotransmission in response to acute psychological stress. The molecular mechanism and functional significance of this reduced inhibitory effect of acute psychological stress in relation to impaired GABA-ergic function in anxiety disorders merit further investigation.
Pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC) hyperactivity differentiates treatment responders from non-responders to various pharmacological antidepressant interventions, including ketamine, an N-methyl--aspartate receptor antagonist. Evidence of pgACC hyperactivition during non-emotional working memory tasks in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) highlights the importance of this region for processing both emotionally salient and cognitive stimuli. However, it is unclear whether pgACC activity might serve as a potential biomarker of antidepressant response during working memory tasks as well, in line with previous research with emotionally arousing tasks. This study tested the hypothesis that during the N-back task, a widely used working memory paradigm, low pretreatment pgACC activity, as well as coherence between the pgACC and the amygdala, would be correlated with the clinical improvement after ketamine. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings were obtained from 15 drug-free patients with MDD during working memory performance 1 to 3 days before receiving a single ketamine infusion. Functional activation patterns were analyzed using advanced MEG source analysis. Source coherence analyses were conducted to quantify the degree of long-range functional connectivity between the pgACC and the amygdala. Patients who showed the least engagement of the pgACC in response to increased working memory load showed the greatest symptomatic improvement within 4 h of ketamine administration (r=0.82, p=0.0002, false discovery rate (FDR) <0.05). Pretreatment functional connectivity between the pgACC and the left amygdala was negatively correlated with antidepressant symptom change (r=−0.73, p=0.0021, FDR <0.05).These data implicate the pgACC and its putative interaction with the amygdala in predicting antidepressant response to ketamine in a working memory task context.
major depressive disorder (MDD); magnetoencephalography (MEG); N-back; biomarker; beta desynchronization; Biological Psychiatry; Mood/Anxiety/Stress Disorders; Imaging; Clinical or Preclinical; Glutamate; magnetoencephalography; N-back; beta desynchronization; biomarker
Aversive events are typically more debilitating when they occur unpredictably than predictably. Studies in humans and animals indicate that predictable and unpredictable aversive events can induce phasic and sustained fear, respectively. Research in rodents suggests that anatomically related but distinct neural circuits may mediate phasic and sustained fear. We explored this issue in humans by examining threat predictability in three virtual reality contexts, one in which electric shocks were predictably signaled by a cue, a second in which shocks occurred unpredictably but never paired with a cue, and a third in which no shocks were delivered. Evidence of threat-induced phasic and sustained fear was presented using fear ratings and skin conductance. Utilizing recent advances in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we were able to conduct whole-brain fMRI at relatively high spatial resolution and still have enough sensitivity to detect transient and sustained signal changes in the basal forebrain. We found that both predictable and unpredictable threat evoked transient activity in the dorsal amygdala, but that only unpredictable threat produced sustained activity in a forebrain region corresponding to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis complex. Consistent with animal models hypothesizing a role for the cortex in generating sustained fear, sustained signal increases to unpredictable threat were also found in anterior insula and a frontoparietal cortical network associated with hypervigilance. In addition, unpredictable threat led to transient activity in the ventral amygdala–hippocampal area and pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, as well as transient activation and subsequent deactivation of subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, limbic structures that have been implicated in the regulation of emotional behavior and stress responses. In line with basic findings in rodents, these results provide evidence that phasic and sustained fear in humans may manifest similar signs of distress, but appear to be associated with different patterns of neural activity in the human basal forebrain.
Fear; Anxiety; Dorsal amygdala; BNST; Functional imaging; fMRI
Data will be reviewed using the acoustic startle reflex in rats and humans based on our attempts to operationally define fear vs anxiety. Although the symptoms of fear and anxiety are very similar, they also differ. Fear is a generally adaptive state of apprehension that begins rapidly and dissipates quickly once the threat is removed (phasic fear). Anxiety is elicited by less specific and less predictable threats, or by those that are physically or psychologically more distant. Thus, anxiety is a more long-lasting state of apprehension (sustained fear). Rodent studies suggest that phasic fear is mediated by the amygdala, which sends outputs to the hypothalamus and brainstem to produce symptoms of fear. Sustained fear is also mediated by the amygdala, which releases corticotropin-releasing factor, a stress hormone that acts on receptors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), a part of the so-called ‘extended amygdala.’ The amygdala and BNST send outputs to the same hypothalamic and brainstem targets to produce phasic and sustained fear, respectively. In rats, sustained fear is more sensitive to anxiolytic drugs. In humans, symptoms of clinical anxiety are better detected in sustained rather than phasic fear paradigms.
amygdala; bed nucleus stria terminalis; startle; CRF; SSRIs; context conditioning
Classical conditioning features prominently in many etiological accounts of panic disorder. According to such accounts, neutral conditioned stimuli present during panic attacks acquire panicogenic properties. Conditioned stimuli triggering panic symptoms are not limited to the original conditioned stimuli but are thought to generalize to stimuli resembling those co-occurring with panic, resulting in the proliferation of panic cues. The authors conducted a laboratory-based assessment of this potential correlate of panic disorder by testing the degree to which panic patients and healthy subjects manifest generalization of conditioned fear.
Nineteen patients with a DSM-IV-TR diagnosis of panic disorder and 19 healthy comparison subjects were recruited for the study. The fear-generalization paradigm consisted of 10 rings of graded size presented on a computer monitor; one extreme size was a conditioned danger cue, the other extreme a conditioned safety cue, and the eight rings of intermediary size created a continuum of similarity from one extreme to the other. Generalization was assessed by conditioned fear potentiating of the startle blink reflex as measured with electromyography (EMG).
Panic patients displayed stronger conditioned generalization than comparison subjects, as reflected by startle EMG. Conditioned fear in panic patients generalized to rings with up to three units of dissimilarity to the conditioned danger cue, whereas generalization in comparison subjects was restricted to rings with only one unit of dissimilarity.
The findings demonstrate a marked proclivity toward fear overgeneralization in panic disorder and provide a methodology for laboratory-based investigations of this central, yet understudied, conditioning correlate of panic. Given the putative molecular basis of fear conditioning, these results may have implications for novel treatments and prevention in panic disorder.
Data will be reviewed using the acoustic startle reflex in rats and humans based on our attempts to operationally define fear vs anxiety. Although the symptoms of fear and anxiety are very similar, they also differ. Fear is a generally adaptive state of apprehension that begins rapidly and dissipates quickly once the threat is removed (phasic fear). Anxiety is elicited by less specific and less predictable threats, or by those that are physically or psychologically more distant. Thus, anxiety is a more long-lasting state of apprehension (sustained fear). Rodent studies suggest that phasic fear is mediated by the amygdala, which sends outputs to the hypothalamus and brainstem to produce symptoms of fear. Sustained fear is also mediated by the amygdala, which releases corticotropin-releasing factor, a stress hormone that acts on receptors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), a part of the so-called ‘extended amygdala.' The amygdala and BNST send outputs to the same hypothalamic and brainstem targets to produce phasic and sustained fear, respectively. In rats, sustained fear is more sensitive to anxiolytic drugs. In humans, symptoms of clinical anxiety are better detected in sustained rather than phasic fear paradigms.
amygdala; bed nucleus stria terminalis; startle; CRF; SSRIs; context conditioning
Pregenual anterior cingulate (pgACC) hyperactivity differentiates treatment responders from non-responders to various pharmacological antidepressant interventions, including ketamine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist. Evidence of pgACC hyperactivition during non-emotional working memory tasks in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) highlights the importance of this region for processing both emotionally-salient and cognitive stimuli. However, it is unclear whether pgACC activity might serve as a potential biomarker of antidepressant response during working memory tasks as well, in line with previous research with emotionally-arousing tasks. The present study tested the hypothesis that during the N-back task, a widely-used working memory paradigm, low pre-treatment pgACC activity, as well as coherence between the pgACC and the amygdala, would be correlated with the clinical improvement following ketamine.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings were obtained from 15 drug-free patients with MDD during working memory performance one to three days before receiving a single ketamine infusion. Functional activation patterns were analyzed using advanced MEG source analysis. Source coherence analyses were conducted to quantify the degree of long-range functional connectivity between the pgACC and the amygdala.
Patients who showed the least engagement of the pgACC in response to increased working memory load showed the greatest symptomatic improvement within four hours of ketamine administration (r = 0.82, p = 0.0002, FDR < 0.05). Pre-treatment functional connectivity between the pgACC and the left amygdala was negatively correlated with antidepressant symptom change (r = −0.73, p = 0.0021, FDR <0.05).
These data implicate the pgACC and its putative interaction with the amygdala in predicting antidepressant response to ketamine in a working memory task context.
major depressive disorder (MDD); magnetoencephalography (MEG); N-back; biomarker; beta desynchronization
Exposure-based therapy (EBT), a leading technique in the treatment of a range of anxiety disorders, is facilitated by D-cycloserine (DCS), a partial N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor agonist. This review discusses the potential mechanisms involved in this facilitation, and its implications for developing theories of fear conditioning in humans. Basic research in rodents suggests that DCS acts by speeding up extinction. However, several lab-based investigations found that DCS had no effect on extinction in humans. This paper proposes that these observations can be accounted for by a dual-model theory of fear conditioning in humans that engages two complementary defensive systems: a reflexive lower-order system independent of conscious awareness and a higher-order cognitive system associated with conscious awareness of danger and expectation. DCS studies in animals appear to have explored lower-order conditioning mechanisms, whereas human studies have explored higher-order cognitive processes. These observations suggest that DCS may act preferentially on lower- rather than higher-order learning. This paper presents evidence suggesting that, in humans, DCS may similarly affect lower-order learning during EBT and, consequently, may be less effective during cognitive therapy (e.g., cognitive restructuring). Finally, it is recommended that extinction studies using DCS in humans be conducted using fear-relevant stimuli (e.g., snakes), short conditional stimulus-unconditioned stimulus (CS-US) intervals, and intense US in order to promote lower-order conditioning processes.
D-cycloserine (DCS); fear conditioning; extinction; exposure-based therapy; anxiety disorders; phobia
Previous theories implicate hippocampal dysfunction in anxiety disorders. Most of the data supporting these theories stem from animal research, particularly lesion studies. The generalisation of findings from rodent models to human function is hampered by fundamental inter-species differences. The present work uses a task of spatial orientation, which is known to rely on hippocampal function. Deficits in spatial navigation in anxious children suggest that the hippocampal network involved in spatial orientation is also implicated in anxiety disorders.
34 treatment-naive children with an anxiety disorder (mean 11.00 years ± 2.54) are compared to 35 healthy age- and IQ-matched healthy children (mean 11.95 years ± 2.36) on a virtual, computer-based equivalent of the Morris Water Maze task.
Results indicate that children with anxiety disorder exhibit overall impaired performance relative to the comparison group. Anxious children made more heading direction errors and had worse accuracy in completing trials relative to controls.
The results present novel evidence that spatial orientation deficits occur in pediatric anxiety.
pediatric; anxiety; hippocampus; water maze; spatial navigation
Uncontrollability and unpredictability are key concepts related to re-experiencing, avoidance and hypervigilance symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, little is known about the differential sensitivity of PTSD individuals to unpredictable stressors, relative to either healthy individuals or individuals with other anxiety disorders. This study tested the hypothesis that elevated anxious reactivity, specifically for unpredictable aversive events, is a psychophysiological correlate of PTSD.
Sixteen patients with PTSD (34.5 ± 12.4 years) were compared to 18 patients with GAD (34.0 ± 10.5 years) and 34 healthy controls (30.2 ± 8.5 years). Participants were exposed to three conditions: one in which predictable aversive stimuli were signaled by a cue, a second in which aversive stimuli were administered unpredictably, and a third in which no aversive stimuli were anticipated. Startle magnitude was used to assess anxious responses to the threat cue and to contexts associated with each condition.
PTSD and GAD patients showed normative enhancement of fear to the predictable threat cue, but the PTSD group displayed elevated anxiety during the unpredictable condition compared to participants with GAD and healthy controls.
Anxious reactivity to unpredictable aversive events was heightened in PTSD, but not in GAD and healthy subjects. Prior works also found signs of increased reactivity to unpredictable threat in panic disorder (PD), suggesting that PTSD and PD may involve shared vulnerability. As such, the current results inform understandings of classification, pathophysiology and psychopharmacology of anxiety disorders, generally, and PTSD and panic disorder specifically.
PTSD; generalized anxiety disorder; predictability; threat; fear-potentiated startle
Effects of acute stress exposure on learning and memory have been frequently studied in both animals and humans. However, only a few studies have focused specifically on working memory performance and the available data are equivocal. The present study examined working memory performance during the Sternberg item recognition task after exposure to a predominantly adrenergic stressor. Twenty four healthy subjects were randomly assigned to a stress group or a control group. The stress group was exposed to the cold pressor stress test (CPS; i.e. insertion of the dominant hand into ice water for 60s), while 37 °C warm water was used with the control group. Twenty minutes after the stress exposure, working memory performance was tested with the Sternberg item recognition task with three levels of cognitive load. Sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis activation during CPS, were assessed by measuring heart rate and salivary cortisol before and during (heart rate) or 30 min after (cortisol) the stress procedure. Exposure to the CPS test was associated with a significant increase in heart rate but no increase in salivary cortisol. Participants exposed to the stress procedure showed significantly shorter reaction times during trials with higher cognitive load but tended to show higher false alarm rates than control subjects. The present results indicate that exposure to CPS can be associated with signs of both enhanced and impaired working memory performance. The observed behavioral pattern might represent a form of streamlined information processing advantageous in a threatening situation.
Stress; Working memory; Reaction time; Cortisol; Arousal