Functional MRI activation in response to panic-specific, non-panic aversive, and neutral pictures in patients with panic disorder and healthy controls

K. R. Engel, K. Obst, B. Bandelow, P. Dechent, O. Gruber, I. Zerr, K. Ulrich, D. Wedekind*

*Corresponding author for this work
15 Citations (Scopus)


There is evidence that besides limbic brain structures, prefrontal and insular cortical activations and deactivations are involved in the pathophysiology of panic disorder. This study investigated activation response patterns to stimulation with individually selected panic-specific pictures in patients with panic disorder with agoraphobia (PDA) and healthy control subjects using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Structures of interest were the prefrontal, cingulate, and insular cortex, and the amygdalo-hippocampal complex. Nineteen PDA subjects (10 females, 9 males) and 21 healthy matched controls were investigated using a Siemens 3-Tesla scanner. First, PDA subjects gave Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) ratings on 120 pictures showing characteristic panic/agoraphobia situations, of which 20 pictures with the individually highest SAM ratings were selected. Twenty matched pictures showing aversive but not panic-specific stimuli and 80 neutral pictures from the International Affective Picture System were chosen for each subject as controls. Each picture was shown twice in each of four subsequent blocks. Anxiety and depression ratings were recorded before and after the experiment. Group comparisons revealed a significantly greater activation in PDA patients than control subjects in the insular cortices, left inferior frontal gyrus, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, the left hippocampal formation, and left caudatum, when PA and N responses were compared. Comparisons for stimulation with unspecific aversive pictures showed activation of similar brain regions in both groups. Results indicate region-specific activations to panic-specific picture stimulation in PDA patients. They also imply dysfunctionality in the processing of interoceptive cues in PDA and the regulation of negative emotionality. Therefore, differences in the functional networks between PDA patients and control subjects should be further investigated.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)557-566
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2016


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