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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Contextual modulation of medial prefrontal cortex to neutral faces in anxious adolescents

  • Author(s): Peris, Tara S
  • Galván, Adriana
  • et al.

Abstract Background Although interpretation biases are well documented among youth with anxiety disorders, understanding of their neural correlates is limited. In particular, there has been little study of how anxious youth neurobiologically represent changing contextual cues that may trigger anxiety. This study examined neural responses during a task in which participants viewed neutral faces paired with experimentally manipulated contextual stimuli. Methods Participants (16 youth with a primary anxiety disorder diagnosis and 15 age- and gender-matched controls) passively viewed neutral faces that were paired with either neutral descriptive vignettes or with vignettes that were potentially anxiety provoking (for example, those that involved performance/social evaluation). Results The two groups were differentiated by their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) responses, such that context modulated mPFC activation in anxious youth while non-anxious youth demonstrated no such differentiation. Counter to expectations, the performance/evaluation frames were not associated with amygdala reactivity for either group. Conclusions The present investigation is among the first to identify how context modulates mPFC responding to neutral stimuli among anxious youth. It takes an important step toward understanding the neurobiological correlates underlying interpretation biases of neutral stimuli in this population.

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