Genome-wide expression and response to exposure-based psychological therapy for anxiety disorders

Susanna Roberts, Chloe Chung Yi Wong, Gerome Breen, Jonathan Richard Iain Coleman, Simone De Jong, Peter Jöhren, Robert Keers, Charles Curtis, Sang Hyuck Lee, Jürgen Margraf, Silvia Schneider, Tobias Teismann, André Wannemüller, Kathryn Jane Lester, Thalia Catherine Eley

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Exposure-based psychological treatments for anxiety have high efficacy. However, a substantial proportion of patients do not respond to therapy. Research examining the potential biological underpinnings of therapy response is still in its infancy, and most studies have focussed on candidate genes. This study represents the first investigation of genome-wide expression profiles with respect to treatment outcome. Participants (n=102) with panic disorder or specific phobia received exposure-based CBT. Treatment outcome was defined as percentage reduction from baseline in clinician-rated severity of their primary anxiety diagnosis at post-treatment and six month follow-up. Gene expression was determined from whole blood samples at 3 time-points using the Illumina HT-12v4 BeadChip microarray. Linear regression models tested the association between treatment outcome and changes in gene expression from pre-treatment to post-treatment, and pre-treatment to follow-up. Network analysis was conducted using weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA), and change in the detected modules from pre-treatment to post-treatment and follow-up was tested for association with treatment outcome. No changes in gene expression were significantly associated with treatment outcomes when correcting for multiple testing (q<0.05), although a small number of genes showed a suggestive association with treatment outcome (q<0.5, n=20). Network analysis showed no association between treatment outcome and change in gene expression for any module. We report suggestive evidence for the role of a small number of genes in treatment outcome. Although preliminary, these findings contribute to a growing body of research suggesting that response to psychological therapies may be associated with changes at a biological level.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1219
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number8
Early online date29 Aug 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Aug 2017


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