fMRI of fearful facial affect recognition in panic disorder: the cingulate gyrus-amygdala connection

Srinivasan S Pillay, Staci A Gruber, Jadwiga Rogowska, Norah Simpson, Deborah A Yurgelun-Todd
Journal of Affective Disorders 2006, 94 (1): 173-81

BACKGROUND: This study investigated cingulate cortex (CC) and amygdala response to fearful facial affect recognition in patients with panic disorder (PD) as measured by BOLD fMRI during the presentation of static facial images.

METHODS: Eight patients with PD and eight controls were studied. Scanning was performed on a GE Signa 1.5-T scanner. Echo planar and high-resolution MR images were acquired.

RESULTS: Controls produced greater CC activation compared to patients with PD in response to fearful faces. Furthermore, patients with PD produced less amygdala activation than controls in response to fearful faces. During the neutral face condition, overall activation for the CC was significantly greater in PD patients although anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activation was not as markedly different between both groups. There were no between group differences in amygdala activation on exposure to the neutral face. Only left CC activation was significantly correlated negatively with HAM-A in PD patients in the fearful facial affect condition.

LIMITATIONS: Although comparable to similar studies, the sample size is small enough to warrant further investigation. Also, the effects of medication need to be considered when interpreting these results.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients with PD activate the ACC and amygdala significantly less than controls when asked to identify fearful facial affect during fMRI. The higher the anxiety, the lower the left CC activation. Thus, chronic hyperarousal in PD may diminish attentional resources and emotional response reflected in reduced ACC and amygdala activation. Even if these are medication effects, the differences from controls are clinically relevant.

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