Objective: 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. Method: 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. Results: 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. Conclusions: 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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health