Common and Distinct Brain Activation to Threat and Safety Signals in Social Phobia

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, Friedrich Schiller University, Am Steiger 3/1, DE-07743 Jena, Germany.
Neuropsychobiology (Impact Factor: 2.26). 02/2005; 52(3):163-8. DOI: 10.1159/000087987
Source: PubMed


Little is known about the functional neuroanatomy underlying the processing of emotional stimuli in social phobia.
To investigate specific brain activation that is associated with the processing of threat and safety signals in social phobics.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain activation was measured in social phobic and nonphobic subjects during the presentation of angry, happy and neutral facial expressions under free viewing conditions.
Compared to controls, phobics showed increased activation of extrastriate visual cortex regardless of facial expression. Angry, but not neutral or happy, faces elicited greater insula responses in phobics. In contrast, both angry and happy faces led to increased amygdala activation in phobics.
The results support the hypothesis that the amygdala is involved in the processing of negative and positive stimuli. Furthermore, social phobics respond sensitively not only to threatening but also to accepting faces and common and distinct neural mechanisms appear to be associated with the processing of threat versus safety signals.

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    • "These results may reflect alterations in early visual processing, which possibly stem from hypersensitivity to threatening cues in associated subcortical structures (Straube et al., 2005; Phan et al., 2006; Stein et al., 2007). Accordingly, subliminal threat cues have been shown to elicit a robust neural response, particularly in anxiety-prone individuals (Li et al., 2008; Ball et al., 2012; Brooks et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Socially anxious individuals have been shown to exhibit altered processing of facial affect, especially expressions signaling threat. Enhanced unaware processing has been suggested an important mechanism which may give rise to anxious conscious cognition and behavior. This study investigated whether individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) are perceptually more vulnerable to the biasing effects of subliminal threat cues compared to healthy controls. In a perceptual judgment task, 23 SAD and 23 matched control participants were asked to rate the affective valence of parametrically manipulated affective expressions ranging from neutral to angry. Each trial was preceded by subliminal presentation of an angry/neutral cue. The SAD group tended to rate target faces as “angry” when the preceding subliminal stimulus was angry vs. neutral, while healthy participants were not biased by the subliminal stimulus presentation. The perceptual bias in SAD was also associated with higher reaction time latencies in the subliminal angry cue condition. The results provide further support for enhanced unconscious threat processing in SAD individuals. The implications for etiology, maintenance, and treatment of SAD are discussed.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 08/2014; 8. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00580 · 3.63 Impact Factor
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    • "By means of functional brain imaging, heightened activation of the amygdala has been found during the processing of disorder-related stimuli (for example, [2-9]) as well as during symptom provocation in SAD patients (for example, [10-14]), supporting the assumed role of the amygdala in threat processing [15,16]. Furthermore, several other regions have been associated with increased activation in SAD, including medial prefrontal areas, for example, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), and the insular cortex (for example, [3,5,8,10,17-20]). Medial prefrontal cortex areas have been proposed to be linked to explicit emotional evaluation, emotional-cognitive interactions, self-referential processing, and emotion-regulation [21-26]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Previous functional imaging studies using symptom provocation in patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD) reported inconsistent findings, which might be at least partially related to different time-dependent activation profiles in different brain areas. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we used a novel video-based symptom provocation design in order to investigate the magnitude and time course of activation in different brain areas in 20 SAD patients and 20 healthy controls. Results The disorder-related videos induced increased anxiety in patients with SAD as compared to healthy controls. Analyses of brain activation to disorder-related versus neutral video clips revealed amygdala activation during the first but not during the second half of the clips in patients as compared to controls. In contrast, the activation in the insula showed a reversed pattern with increased activation during the second but not during the first half of the video clips. Furthermore, a cluster in the anterior dorsal anterior cingulate cortex showed a sustained response for the entire duration of the videos. Conclusions The present findings suggest that different regions of the fear network show differential temporal response patterns during video-induced symptom provocation in SAD. While the amygdala is involved during initial threat processing, the insula seems to be more involved during subsequent anxiety responses. In accordance with cognitive models of SAD, a medial prefrontal region engaged in emotional-cognitive interactions is generally hyperactivated.
    Biology of Mood and Anxiety Disorders 04/2014; 4(1):6. DOI:10.1186/2045-5380-4-6
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    • "Hence, we suggest that a common element of separation anxiety might be a hyperresponsiveness to negative social signals (faces). Up to now, hyperactivity or reactivity in a limbic circuit with the amygdala as a key structure has been observed during negative emotional processing in patients with social anxiety disorder (Stein et al., 2002; Straube et al., 2005; Phan et al., 2006), specific phobia (Schienle et al., 2005; Straube et al., 2006; Schweckendiek et al., 2011), panic disorder (van den Heuvel et al., 2005; Pfleiderer et al., 2007), and post-traumatic stress disorder (Shin et al., 2005; Francati et al., 2007) as well as in healthy but high-anxious subjects (Vrticka et al., 2008; Pejic et al., 2011; Sehlmeyer et al., 2011; Laeger et al., 2012; Abraham et al., 2013) and healthy subjects with a history of childhood maltreatment (Dannlowski et al., 2013; Dannlowski et al., 2012). However, to understand the complex function of the amygdala in the context of emotion processing, its functional interplay with other brain areas should be taken into account. "
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    ABSTRACT: The core feature of separation anxiety is excessive distress when faced with actual or perceived separation from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment. So far little is known about the neurobiological underpinnings of separation anxiety. Therefore, we investigated functional (amygdala responsiveness and functional connectivity during threat-related emotion processing) and structural (grey matter volume) imaging markers associated with separation anxiety as measured with the Relationship Scale Questionnaire in a large sample of healthy adults from the Münster Neuroimaging Cohort (N = 320). We used a robust emotional face-matching task and acquired high-resolution structural images for morphometric analyses using voxel-based morphometry. The main results were positive associations of separation anxiety scores with amygdala reactivity to emotional faces as well as increased amygdala grey matter volumes. A functional connectivity analysis revealed positive associations between separation anxiety and functional coupling of the amygdala with areas involved in visual processes and attention, including several occipital and somatosensory areas. Taken together, the results suggest a higher emotional involvement in subjects with separation anxiety while watching negative facial expressions, and potentially secondary neuro-structural adaptive processes. These results could help to understand and treat (adult) separation anxiety.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 04/2014; 10(2). DOI:10.1093/scan/nsu055 · 7.37 Impact Factor
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