Brain activity patterns in anxiety-prone people suggest deficits in handling fear
Anxiety as a personality trait appears to be linked to the functioning of two key brain regions involved in fear and its suppression, according to an NIMH-funded study. Differences in how these two regions function and interact may help explain the wide range of symptoms seen in people who have anxiety disorders.
Graziosi: Anxiety disorders are characterized by an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations. At any given time 30 percent of the population will suffer from some form of anxiety. To better understand the disorder and how to treat it, the National Institute of Mental Health has conducted a study focusing on two parts of the brain, the amygdale and the ventral prefrontal cortex. Dr. Sonia Bishop of the University of California Berkeley helped design the study.
Bishop: We were interested in trying to look at people who were kind of highly vulnerable to see what's different about the way in which these processes work in those individuals to try and understand the pathway into high risk anxiety disorders.
Graziosi: The researchers assessed the level of anxiety of each participant by having their brain activity recorded through functional MRI screening while being re-exposed to different types of fear scenarios. She explains that the amygdale region of the brain, which is involved in responding strongly to dangerous or threatening stimuli, can be over responsive.
Bishop: What we also found is that this other region of the brain, the ventral frontal cortex, which has previously been associated with extinction, which is how quickly you can get over your fears once danger has passed, we found that this is actually involved in people's ability to down regulate or decrease them even before danger has passed.
Graziosi: Dr. Bishop says the study is ongoing, but the goal is to be able to predict which individuals will respond to cognitive therapies and which will respond to drug therapies. Additionally, Dr. Bishop says another aim is that researchers might eventually be able to develop online training courses that can let people look to see if they are at a high risk for anxiety disorders. To learn more about anxiety disorders and this study, visit www.nimh.nih.gov. I'm Cherry Graziosi, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Cherry Graziosi
Sound Bite: Dr. Sonia Bishop
Topic: anxiety, anxiety disorders, anxious, amygdale, ventral prefrontal cortex