San Diego - A brain scan with functional MRI (fMRI) is enough to predict which patients with pediatric anxiety disorder will respond to "talk therapy," and so may not need to use psychiatric medication, say neuroscientists from Georgetown University Medical Center.
Their study, being presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, showed that children and adolescents, ages 8 to16, who show fear when looking at happy faces on a screen inside an fMRI scanner were those who had least success with an eight-week course of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Conversely, children who showed fear while looking at fearful faces benefitted from the treatment, which is also known as talk therapy, the researchers found.
"Anxiety and fear are intrinsically linked, so how the brain's fear center responds would naturally affect how anxiety disorders manifest," says the study's lead author, Steve Rich, a fourth year medical student.
"Indeed, the impact on their responses to therapy was impressive," he says. "Past studies have shown that many people react to fearful faces with fear themselves, but our most robust finding indicated that some anxiety disorder patients have more anxiety towards happy faces than fearful ones, and those patients were the least likely to respond to cognitive behavioral therapy."
The study enrolled 13 boys and 10 girls in this study, all of whom had been diagnosed with pediatric anxiety disorder.
While inside the fMRI machine, the participants were shown pictures of faces that expressed certain emotions strongly. "The questions we were trying to answer were: What emotions make people afraid when they witness them on others' faces, and does that pattern predict response to talk therapy," Rich says.
An fMRI is a type of scan that records changes in blood flow being used at each location in the brain, thus showing levels of activity. In this study, the researchers
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Georgetown University Medical Center