Washington: A new study examining the anxious brain during a fear conditioning task has offered insights into why some people may be more or less prone to anxiety disorders.
However, it is not clear how certain personality characteristics, like a tendency or vulnerability towards anxiety, influence these mechanisms."We were interested in examining why it is that some of us can overcome the discrete fears and nonspecific anxiety that we experience in our lives more easily than others," explains senior study author, Dr. Sonia J. Bishop from the University of California, Berkeley."Or, in other words, what differences in brain function might confer increased vulnerability for chronic fear and anxiety disorders?"Dr. Bishop and colleagues performed a neuroimaging study to examine fear conditioning in human subjects who had been classified as having varying levels of "trait anxiety," a tendency to experience anxiety across a range of everyday situations.The researchers observed that subjects who had a high level of trait anxiety were more likely to have an enhanced amygdala response to CS fear cues and to show faster acquisition of learned "fear" of these cues. Individual differences in amygdala reactivity were independent of the second dimension of risk, this involving the vmPFC. Recruitment of this region during conditioned fear expression prior to extinction was linked with greater reduction in fear responses and was more pronounced in fear-resilient individuals.The findings suggest that individual differences in amygdala and vmPFC function are independently associated with vulnerability to anxiety, with the amygdala potentially influencing the development of cue-specific fears (or phobias) and the vmPFC impacting the ability to downregulate both phasic fears and generalized anxiety."An understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms by which trait vulnerability to pathological anxiety is conferred may aid not only in explaining the variability in symptoms, but also in informing choice intervention and prediction of treatment response," concludes Dr. Bishop.The study has been published by Cell Press in the February 10 issue of the journal Neuron. ANI
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