Although cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders, many patients still do not benefit. This study investigates whether a history of traumatic event experience is negatively associated with outcomes of CBT for panic disorder. The moderating role of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene and depression symptoms as well as the association between trauma history and fear reactivity as a potential mechanism are further analyzed. We conducted a post-hoc analysis of 172 male and 60 female patients with panic disorder treated with CBT in a multi-center study. Treatment outcome was assessed at post-treatment using self-report and clinician rating scales. Fear reactivity before treatment was assessed via heart rate and self-reported anxiety during a behavioral avoidance test. Among females, we did not find any differences in treatment response between traumatized and non-traumatized individuals or any two-way interaction trauma history × MAOA genotype. There was a significant three-way interaction trauma history × MAOA genotype × depression symptoms on all treatment outcomes indicating that in traumatized female patients carrying the low-activity allele, treatment effect sizes decreased with increasing depression symptoms at baseline. No such effects were observed for males. In conclusion, we found no evidence for a differential treatment response in traumatized and non-traumatized individuals. There is preliminary evidence for poorer treatment outcomes in a subgroup of female traumatized individuals carrying the low-active variant of the MAOA gene. These patients also report more symptoms of depression symptomatology and exhibit a dampened fear response before treatment which warrants further investigation.
Keywords: CBT; Depression; Fear reactivity; MAOA; Panic disorder; Trauma.