Waiting for spiders: brain activation during anticipatory anxiety in spider phobics

Neuroimage. 2007 Oct 1;37(4):1427-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.06.023. Epub 2007 Jul 10.


Anticipatory anxiety during expectation of phobogenic stimuli is an integral part of abnormal behaviour in phobics. The neural basis of anticipatory anxiety in specific phobia is unknown. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we explored brain activation in subjects with spider phobia and in non-phobic subjects, while participants anticipated the presentation of either neutral or phobogenic visual stimuli. Subjective ratings indicated that anticipation of phobia-related stimuli was associated with increased anxiety in phobics but not in healthy subjects. FMRI results showed increased activation of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), insula, thalamus, and visual areas in phobics compared to controls during anticipation of phobia-relevant versus anticipation of neutral stimulation. Furthermore, for this contrast, we found also increased activation of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). This particular finding supports models, which propose, based on animal experiments, a critical involvement of the BNST in anticipatory anxiety. Finally, correlation analysis revealed that subjective anxiety of phobics correlated significantly with activation in rostral and dorsal ACC and the anterior medial prefrontal cortex. Thus, activation in different ACC regions and the medial prefrontal cortex seems to be specifically associated with the severity of experienced anticipatory anxiety in subjects with spider phobia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Phobic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Septal Nuclei / physiopathology
  • Spiders*