[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Neuroimaging research has traditionally explored fear and anxiety in response to discrete threat cues (e.g., during fear conditioning). However, anxiety is a sustained aversive state that can persist in the absence of discrete threats. Little is known about mechanisms that maintain anxiety states over a prolonged period. Here, we used a robust translational paradigm (threat of shock) to induce sustained anxiety. Recent translational work has implicated an amygdala-prefrontal cortex (PFC) circuit in the maintenance of anxiety in rodents. To explore the functional homologues of this circuitry in humans, we used a novel paradigm to examine the impact of sustained anticipatory anxiety on amygdala-PFC intrinsic connectivity.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Hippocampal neuronal populations exhibit multiple kinds of activity patterns, from the dominant theta rhythm during active exploration to high-frequency ripple-like activity during periods of relative inactivity. In animals, evidence is rapidly accruing that these high-frequency ripple activity patterns subserve retention of spatial learning performance. In a translational effort to address the possible function of offline hippocampal processes in humans, we measured spontaneous gamma activity during an awake rest period within a virtual spatial learning context. Whole-head magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recordings were taken while healthy participants (N=24) quietly rested (eyes open) between encoding and retrieval phases of a hippocampal-dependent virtual Morris water maze task. Results are that fast gamma activity (80-140Hz) in the septal or posterior region of the hippocampus (bilaterally) was positively correlated across participants with subsequent within-session spatial learning rate. Fast gamma did not predict initial retrieval performance following rest, failing to provide evidence of a direct link between spontaneous high-frequency activity patterns during awake rest and consolidation of previous spatial memories. The findings nevertheless are consistent with a prospective role for offline human hippocampal processes in spatial learning and indicate that higher spontaneous gamma activity in the septal hippocampal region is related to faster updating of spatial knowledge in familiar virtual surroundings.
Behavioural brain research 12/2013; · 3.22 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Serotonergic medications can mitigate the negative affective biases in disorders such as depression or anxiety, but the neural mechanism by which this occurs is largely unknown. In line with recent advances demonstrating that negative affective biases may be driven by specific medial prefrontal-amygdala circuitry, we asked whether serotonin manipulation can alter affective processing within a key dorsal medial prefrontal-amygdala circuit: the putative human homologue of the rodent prelimbic-amygdala circuit or 'aversive amplification' circuit. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover pharmaco-fMRI design, subjects (N=19) performed a forced-choice face identification task with word distractors in an fMRI scanner over two separate sessions. On one session subjects received dietary depletion of the serotonin precursor tryptophan while on the other session they received a balanced placebo control diet. Results showed that dorsal medial prefrontal responding was elevated in response to fearful relative to happy faces under depletion but not placebo. This negative bias under depletion was accompanied by a corresponding increase in positive dorsal medial prefrontal -amygdala functional connectivity. We therefore conclude that serotonin depletion engages a prefrontal-amygdala circuit during the processing of fearful relative to happy face stimuli. This same 'aversive amplification' circuit is also engaged during anxiety induced by shock anticipation. As such, serotonergic projections may inhibit engagement of the 'aversive amplification' circuit and dysfunction in this projection may contribute to the negative affective bias in mood and anxiety disorders. These findings thus provide a promising explanation for the role of serotonin and serotonergic medications in the neurocircuitry of negative affective bias.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: From job interviews to the heat of battle, it is evident that people think and learn differently when stressed. In fact, learning under stress may have long-term consequences; stress facilitates aversive conditioning and associations learned during extreme stress may result in debilitating emotional responses in posttraumatic stress disorder. The mechanisms underpinning such stress-related associations, however, are unknown. Computational neuroscience has successfully characterized several mechanisms critical for associative learning under normative conditions. One such mechanism, the detection of a mismatch between expected and observed outcomes within the ventral striatum (i.e., "prediction errors"), is thought to be a critical precursor to the formation of new stimulus-outcome associations. An untested possibility, therefore, is that stress may affect learning via modulation of this mechanism. Here we combine a translational model of stress with a cognitive neuroimaging paradigm to demonstrate that stress significantly increases ventral striatum aversive (but not appetitive) prediction error signal. This provides a unique account of the propensity to form threat-related associations under stress with direct implications for our understanding of both normal stress and stress-related disorders.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 03/2013; 110(10):4129-33. · 9.81 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Conventional wisdom dictates we must face our fears to conquer them. This idea is embodied in exposure-based treatments for anxiety disorders, where the intent of exposure is to reverse a history of avoidant behavior that is thought to fuel a patient's irrational fears. We tested in humans the relationship between fear and avoidance by combining Pavlovian differential fear conditioning with a novel task for quantifying spontaneous passive avoidant behavior. During self-guided navigation in virtual reality following de novo fear conditioning, we observed participants keeping their distance from the feared object. At the individual level, passive avoidant behavior was highly associated with maladaptive fear expression (fear-potentiated startle) during late extinction training, indicating that extinction learning was impaired following a brief episode of avoidance. Avoidant behavior, however, was not related to initial acquired fear, raising doubt about a straightforward link between physiological fear and behavioral avoidance. We conclude that a deeper understanding of what motivates avoidance may offer a target for early intervention, before fears transition from the rational to the irrational.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Serotonin is strongly implicated in the mammalian stress response, but surprisingly little is known about its mode of action. Recent data suggest that serotonin can inhibit aversive responding in humans, but this remains underspecified. In particular, data in rodents suggest that global serotonin depletion may specifically increase long-duration bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST)-mediated aversive responses (ie, anxiety), but not short-duration BNST-independent responses (ie, fear). Here, we extend these findings to humans. In a balanced, placebo-controlled crossover design, healthy volunteers (n=20) received a controlled diet with and without the serotonin precursor tryptophan (acute tryptophan depletion; ATD). Aversive states were indexed by translational acoustic startle measures. Fear and anxiety were operationally defined as the increase in startle reactivity during short- and long-duration threat periods evoked by predictable shock (fear-potentiated startle) and by the context in which the shocks were administered (anxiety-potentiated startle), respectively. ATD significantly increased long-duration anxiety-potentiated startle but had no effect on short-duration fear-potentiated startle. These results suggest that serotonin depletion in humans selectively increases anxiety but not fear. Current translational frameworks support the proposition that ATD thus disinhibits dorsal raphé-originating serotonergic control of corticotropin-releasing hormone-mediated excitation of the BNST. This generates a candidate neuropharmacological mechanism by which depleted serotonin may increase response to sustained threats, alongside clear implications for our understanding of the manifestation and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.
Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology 04/2012; 37(8):1963-71. · 8.68 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Current views of the hippocampus assign this structure, and its prominent theta rhythms, a key role in both cognition and affect. We studied this duality of function in humans, where no direct evidence exists. Whole-head magnetoencephalographic (MEG) data were recorded to measure theta activity while healthy participants (N = 25) navigated two virtual Morris water mazes, one in which they risked receiving aversive shocks without warning to induce anxiety and one in which they were safe from shocks. Results showed that threat of shock elevated anxiety level and enhanced navigation performance as compared to the safe condition. MEG source analyses revealed that improved navigation performance during threat was preferentially associated with increased left septal (posterior) hippocampal theta (specifically 4-8 Hz activity), replicating previous research that emphasizes a predominant role of the septal third of the hippocampus in spatial cognition. Moreover, increased self-reported anxiety during threat was preferentially associated with increased left temporal (anterior) hippocampal theta (specifically 2-6 Hz activity), consistent with this region's involvement in mediating conditioned and innate fear. Supporting contemporary theory, these findings highlight simultaneous involvement of the human hippocampus in spatial cognition and anxiety, and clarify their distinct correlates.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: 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.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Depression and anxiety disorders (ADs) are highly co-morbid, but the reason for this co-morbidity is unclear. One possibility is that they predispose one another. An informative way to examine interactions between disorders without the confounds present in patient populations is to manipulate the psychological processes thought to underlie the pathological states in healthy individuals. In this study we therefore asked whether a model of the sad mood in depression can enhance psychophysiological responses (startle) to a model of the anxiety in ADs. We predicted that sad mood would increase anxious anxiety-potentiated startle responses.
In a between-subjects design, participants (n=36) completed either a sad mood induction procedure (MIP; n=18) or a neutral MIP (n=18). Startle responses were assessed during short-duration predictable electric shock conditions (fear-potentiated startle) or long-duration unpredictable threat of shock conditions (anxiety-potentiated startle).
Induced sadness enhanced anxiety- but not fear-potentiated startle.
This study provides support for the hypothesis that sadness can increase anxious responding measured by the affective startle response. This, taken together with prior evidence that ADs can contribute to depression, provides initial experimental support for the proposition that ADs and depression are frequently co-morbid because they may be mutually reinforcing.
Psychological Medicine 11/2011; 42(7):1397-407. · 5.43 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: 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.