Anxiety-potentiated amygdala-medial frontal coupling and attentional control

O. J. Robinson, M. Krimsky, L. Lieberman, K. Vytal, M. Ernst, C. Grillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Anxiety disorders can be treated both pharmacologically and psychologically, but many individuals either fail to respond to treatment or relapse. Improving outcomes is difficult, in part because we have incomplete understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying current treatments. In a sequence of studies, we have identified 'affective bias-related' amygdala-medial cortical coupling as a candidate substrate underlying adaptive anxiety (that is, anxiety elicited by threat of shock in healthy individuals) and shown that it is also chronically engaged in maladaptive anxiety disorders. We have provided evidence that this circuit can be modulated pharmacologically, but whether this mechanism can be shifted by simple psychological instruction is unknown. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we extend a previously used translational anxiety induction (threat of shock) in healthy subjects (N=43) and cognitive task to include an element of instructed attentional control. Replicating our previous findings, we show that induced anxiety engages 'affective bias-related' amygdala-dorsal medial frontal coupling during the processing of emotional faces. By contrast, instructing subjects to attend to neutral shapes (and ignore faces) disengages this circuitry and increases putative 'attentional control-related' coupling between the amygdala and a more rostral prefrontal region. These neural coupling changes are accompanied by corresponding modulation of behavioural performance. Taken together, these findings serve to further highlight the potential role of amygdala-medial frontal coupling in the pathogenesis of anxiety and highlight a mechanism by which it can be modulated via psychological instructions. This, in turn, generates hypotheses for future work exploring the mechanisms underlying psychological therapeutic interventions for anxiety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere833
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 7 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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