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

Tara S Peris1* and Adriana Galván23

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, 760 Westwood Plaza, Room 67-439, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

2 Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

3 Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

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Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2013, 3:18  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-3-18

Published: 15 November 2013



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.


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).


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.


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.

Anxiety disorders; Adolescence; FMRI