Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex Activation and Attentional Bias in Response to Angry Faces in Adolescents With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 2000 East Hall, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
American Journal of Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 12.3). 07/2006; 163(6):1091-7. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.1091
Source: PubMed


While adolescent anxiety disorders represent prevalent, debilitating conditions, few studies have explored their brain physiology. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a behavioral measure of attention to angry faces, the authors evaluated differences in response between healthy adolescents and adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder.
In the primary trials of interest, 18 adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder and 15 comparison subjects of equivalent age/gender/IQ viewed angry/neutral face pairs during fMRI acquisition. Following the presentation of each face pair, subjects pressed a button to indicate whether a subsequent asterisk appeared on the same (congruent) or opposite (incongruent) side as the angry face. Reaction time differences between congruent and incongruent face trials provided a measure of attention bias to angry faces.
Relative to the comparison subjects, patients with generalized anxiety disorder manifested greater right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation to trials containing angry faces. Patients with generalized anxiety disorder also showed greater attention bias away from angry faces. Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation differences remained evident when differences in attention bias were covaried. Finally, in an examination among patients of the association between degree of anxiety and brain activation, the authors found that as ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation increased, severity of anxiety symptoms diminished.
Adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder show greater right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation and attentional bias away from angry faces than healthy adolescents. Among patients, increased ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation is associated with less severe anxiety, suggesting that this activation may serve as a compensatory response.

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    • "These two structures were examined given their central role in the pathophysiology of anxiety. In this regard, most fMRI studies of youth with anxiety disorders suggest increased activation of the VLPFC (Monk et al. 2006;McClure et al. 2007;Guyer et al. 2008;Monk et al. 2008;Beesdo et al. 2009;Strawn et al. 2012a) and also suggest structural deficits in this region in children and adolescents with anxiety disorders (Strawn et al. 2015). The VLPFC subserves a number of regulatory functions, including modulation of amygdala activity (Monk et al. 2008) and is responsible for conscious regulation of affect (Phillips et al. 2008). "
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