Dyspnea catastrophizing and neural activations during the anticipation and perception of dyspnea

Psychophysiology. 2018 Apr;55(4). doi: 10.1111/psyp.13004. Epub 2017 Sep 13.


Dyspnea is an aversive symptom in various diseases. High levels of negative affectivity are typically associated with increased dyspnea and changes in its neural processing. Recently, more dyspnea-specific forms of negative affectivity such as dyspnea catastrophizing were suggested to contribute to increased perception of dyspnea beyond effects of rather unspecific negative affectivity such as general anxiety levels. The involved neural mechanisms have not yet been explored. Therefore, the present retrospective analysis examined the associations of dyspnea catastrophizing with neural activations during the anticipation and perception of dyspnea. Sixty-six healthy volunteers underwent 20 blocks of inspiratory resistive load breathing with parallel acquisition of fMRI data. Loads inducing either severe or mild dyspnea (dyspnea conditions) were presented in alternating order, with each condition being visually cued (anticipation conditions). Dyspnea catastrophizing and general trait anxiety were measured with the Breathlessness Catastrophizing Scale (BCS) and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, respectively. Correlating the BCS scores with neural activations during the perception of dyspnea yielded no significant results. However, during the anticipation of dyspnea, BCS scores correlated positively with activations of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), even after controlling for general anxiety levels. These activations in the ACC were not related to concurrent respiratory parameters. Results suggest that dyspnea catastrophizing in healthy volunteers is associated with stronger ACC recruitment during dyspnea anticipation. Given the established role of the ACC in processing affective states, affect regulation, and antinociception, this might reflect increased affective and/or top-down modulatory processing in individuals with higher dyspnea catastrophizing when anticipating dyspnea.

Keywords: affect; anxiety; fMRI; middle-age adults; respiration; sensation/perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Anxiety / diagnostic imaging
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Catastrophization / diagnostic imaging
  • Catastrophization / physiopathology
  • Catastrophization / psychology*
  • Dyspnea / diagnostic imaging
  • Dyspnea / physiopathology
  • Dyspnea / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Young Adult