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Neural connectivity during affect labeling predicts treatment response to psychological therapies for social anxiety disorder

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Katherine S. Young, Richard T. LeBeau, Andrea N. Niles, Kean J. Hsu, Lisa J. Burklund, Bita Mesri, Darby Saxbe, Matthew D. Lieberman, Michelle G. Craske

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-110
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date18 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

King's Authors


Background: Although psychological treatments for social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be highly effective, many individuals do not respond to treatment. Identifying factors associated with improved outcomes can facilitate individualized treatment choices. We investigated whether patterns of neural connectivity predicted treatment responses and whether treatment type, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), moderated this effect. Methods: Participants with SAD (n = 34) underwent fMRI prior to treatment and completed implicit and explicit emotion regulation tasks. Neural connectivity measures were estimates of amygdala-prefrontal cortex connectivity. Treatment responder status was defined using the ‘clinically significant change index’ (Loerinc et al., 2015). Results: Right amygdala-right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex connectivity during implicit emotion regulation was a significant predictor of treatment response (OR = 9.01, 95% CI = 1.77, 46.0, p =.008). Stronger inverse connectivity was associated with greater likelihood of treatment response. There were no significant neural moderators of treatment response to CBT versus ACT. Limitations: The primary limitation of this work was the small sample size which restricted the power to detect significant moderation effects, and results should be interpreted as preliminary. Conclusions: Amygdala-vlPFC connectivity during affect labeling predicted treatment responder status following CBT or ACT for social anxiety disorder. This suggests that the functioning of neural circuitry supporting emotion regulation capacities may be a ‘gateway’ to receiving benefit from psychological treatments. Future work should aim to replicate this effect in a larger sample and consider methods for enhancing functional connectivity within this circuitry as a potential treatment adjunct.

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