Background: Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by abnormal fear and anxiety in social situations. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a brain imaging technique that can be used to demonstrate neural activation to emotionally salient stimuli. However, no attempt has yet been made to statistically collate fMRI studies of brain activation, using the activation likelihood-estimate (ALE) technique, in response to emotion recognition tasks in individuals with SAD.
Methods: A systematic search of fMRI studies of neural responses to socially emotive cues in SAD was undertaken. ALE meta-analysis, a voxel-based meta-analytic technique, was used to estimate the most significant activations during emotional recognition.
Results: Seven studies were eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis, constituting a total of 91 subjects with SAD, and 93 healthy controls. The most significant areas of activation during emotional vs. neutral stimuli in individuals with SAD compared to controls were: bilateral amygdala, left medial temporal lobe encompassing the entorhinal cortex, left medial aspect of the inferior temporal lobe encompassing perirhinal cortex and parahippocampus, right anterior cingulate, right globus pallidus, and distal tip of right postcentral gyrus.
Conclusion: The results are consistent with neuroanatomic models of the role of the amygdala in fear conditioning, and the importance of the limbic circuitry in mediating anxiety symptoms.
Keywords: ALE; SAD; fMRI; generalized social phobia; meta-analysis; social anxiety.