Emotional processing in panic disorder and its subtypes: An fMRI study using emotional faces

T. Pattyn, L. Schmaal, F. Van Den Eede, L. Cassiers, B. W. Penninx, B. C.G. Sabbe, D. J. Veltman

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Background: Inconsistent findings regarding the pathophysiology of panic disorder (PD) could result from clinical heterogeneity. Identifying subtypes could enhance insights into the neurobiological substrates of PD. Methods: An emotional faces fMRI paradigm was used in a group of PD patients (n = 73) and healthy controls (n = 58). The overall PD group was further divided into three previously identified subtypes: a cognitive-autonomic (n = 22), an autonomic (n = 16) and an aspecific (n = 35) subtype. Differences in brain activity levels in response to emotional facial expressions between groups were examined for six regions of interests, namely the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, fusiform gyrus, lingual gyrus and insula. Results: PD patients showed lower activity in the rostral anterior cingulate in response to angry faces than healthy controls, which was mainly driven by the autonomic subtype. No significant differences were found in other brain regions when comparing PD patients with controls or when comparing across PD subtypes. Limitations: Sample sizes in subgroups were relatively small Conclusions: The role of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex for emotional processes critical in panic disorder is highlighted by this study and provides, albeit preliminary, evidence for the use of a subtype approach to advance our neurobiological insights in PD considering its involvement in the appraisal of autonomic viscero-sensory symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-432
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of affective disorders
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2021


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Subtype

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