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Neural correlates of trait anxiety in fear extinction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2010

C. Sehlmeyer
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
U. Dannlowski
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
S. Schöning
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
H. Kugel
Affiliation:
Department of Clinical Radiology, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
M. Pyka
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
B. Pfleiderer
Affiliation:
Department of Clinical Radiology, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
P. Zwitserlood
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, University of Muenster, Germany
H. Schiffbauer
Affiliation:
Department of Clinical Radiology, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany Department of Radiology, University Hospital of Bonn, Germany
W. Heindel
Affiliation:
Department of Clinical Radiology, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
V. Arolt
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany
C. Konrad*
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research, University Hospital of Muenster, Germany Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of Marburg, Germany
*
*Address for correspondence: C. Konrad, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Marburg, Rudolf-Bultmann-Straße 8, D-35039Marburg, Germany. (Email: Carsten.Konrad@med.uni-marburg.de)

Abstract

Background

Fear conditioning involves the amygdala as the main neural structure for learning fear responses whereas fear extinction mainly activates the inhibitory prefrontal cortex (PFC). In this study we investigated whether individual differences in trait anxiety affect amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) activation during fear conditioning and extinction.

Method

Thirty-two healthy subjects were investigated by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 3 T while performing a cued fear-conditioning task. All participants completed the trait version of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-T). Activations of the amygdala and the dACC were examined with respect to the effects of trait anxiety.

Results

Analysis of the fMRI data demonstrated enhanced activation in fear-related brain areas, such as the insula and the ACC, during both fear conditioning and extinction. Activation of the amygdala appeared only during the late acquisition phase whereas deactivation was observed during extinction. Regression analyses revealed that highly trait-anxious subjects exhibited sustained amygdala activation and reduced dACC involvement during the extinction of conditioned responses.

Conclusions

This study reveals that high levels of trait anxiety are associated with both increased amygdala activation and reduced dACC recruitment during the extinction of conditioned fear. This hyper-responsitivity of the amygdala and the deficient cognitive control during the extinction of conditioned fear in anxious subjects reflect an increased resistance to extinct fear responses and may thereby enhance the vulnerability to developing anxiety disorders.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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