Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a first-line treatment for pediatric anxiety disorders, is based on principles of threat learning and extinction. However, CBT does not work sufficiently for up to 40% of clinically anxious youth. The neural and behavioral correlates of conditioned inhibition might provide promising targets for attempts to improve CBT response. During conditioned inhibition, threat and safety cues appear together, forming a safety compound. Here, we test whether this safety compound elicits a reduced fear response compared to pairing the threat cue with a novel cue (novel compound). The current pilot study compares behavioral, physiological, and neural correlates of conditioned inhibition between children with (n=17, Mage=13.09, SD=3.05) and without (n=18, Mage=14.49, SD=2.38) anxiety disorders. Behavioral and physiological measures did not differ between children with and without anxiety disorders during fear acquisition. During testing, children with anxiety disorders showed overall higher skin conductance response and expected to hear the aversive sound following the novel compound more often than children without anxiety disorders. Children with anxiety disorders showed more activity in the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) to the safety versus novel compound. Children without anxiety disorders showed the opposite pattern - more right vmPFC activity to the novel versus safety compound (F(1,31)=5.40, p=0.03). No group differences manifested within the amygdala, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, or hippocampus. These pilot findings suggest a feasible approach for examining conditioned inhibition in pediatric anxiety disorders. If replicated in larger samples, findings may implicate perturbed conditioned inhibition in pediatric anxiety disorders and provide targets for CBT.
Harrewijn, A., Kitt, E. R., Abend, R., Matsumoto, C., Odriozola, P., Winkler, A. M., Leibenluft, E., Pine, D. S., & Gee, D. G. (2021). Comparing neural correlates of conditioned inhibition between children with and without anxiety disorders - A preliminary study. Behavioural brain research, 399, 112994. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2020.112994
Behavioural brain research
Office of Human Genetics