Panic disorder has been associated with dysfunctional neuropsychological dimensions, including anxiety sensitivity. Brain-imaging studies of the neural correlates of emotional processing have identified a network of structures that constitute the neural circuitry for emotions. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and insula, which are part of this network, are also involved in the processing of threat-related stimuli. The aim of the study was to investigate if neural activity in response to emotional stimuli in the cortico-limbic network is associated to anxiety sensitivity in panic disorder. In a sample of 18 outpatients with panic disorder, we studied neural correlates of implicit emotional processing of facial affect expressions with a face-matching paradigm; correlational analyses were performed between brain activations and anxiety sensitivity. The correlational analyses performed showed a positive correlation between anxiety sensitivity and brain activity during emotional processing in regions encompassing the PFC, ACC and insula. Our data seem to confirm that anxiety sensitivity is an important component of panic disorder. Accordingly, the neural underpinnings of anxiety sensitivity could be an interesting focus for treatment and further research.
Keywords: Anterior cingulate cortex; Brain imaging; Insula.
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