Reduced dorsal anterior cingulate cortical activity during emotional regulation and top-down attentional control in generalized social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and comorbid generalized social phobia/generalized anxiety disorder

Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Sep 15;72(6):476-82. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.04.013. Epub 2012 May 15.


Background: Generalized social phobia (GSP) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are both associated with emotion dysregulation. Research implicates dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in both explicit emotion regulation (EER) and top-down attentional control (TAC). Although studies have examined these processes in GSP or GAD, no work compares findings across the two disorders or examines functioning in cases comorbid for both disorders (GSP/GAD). Here we compare the neural correlates of EER and TAC in GSP, GAD, and GSP/GAD.

Methods: Medication-free adults with GSP (EER n = 19; TAC n = 18), GAD (EER n = 17; TAC n = 17), GSP/GAD (EER n = 17; TAC n = 15), and no psychopathology (EER n = 18; TAC n = 18) participated. During EER, individuals alternatively viewed and upregulated and downregulated responses to emotional pictures. During TAC, they performed an emotional Stroop task.

Results: For both tasks, significant group × condition interactions emerged in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and parietal cortices. Healthy adults showed significantly increased recruitment during emotion regulation, relative to emotion-picture viewing. GAD, GSP, and GSP/GAD subjects showed no such increases, with all groups differing from healthy adults but not from each other. Evidence of emotion-related disorder-specificity emerged in medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala. This disorder-specific responding varied as a function of emotion content but not emotion-regulatory demands.

Conclusions: GSP and GAD both involve reduced capacity for engaging emotion-regulation brain networks, whether explicitly or via TAC. A reduced ability to recruit regions implicated in top-down attention might represent a general risk factor for anxiety disorders.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroop Test