A neuroimaging method for the study of threat in adolescents

Little is understood about the brain basis of anxiety, particularly among youth. However, threat paradigms with animals are delineating the relationship between anxietylike behaviors and brain function. We adapted a threat paradigm for adolescents using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The aim was to examine amygdala activation to fear. The threat was an aversive air blast directed to the larynx. Participants were explicitly informed that they might receive the air blast when viewing one stimulus (threat condition) and would not receive the blast when viewing the other stimulus (safe condition). Participants provided fear ratings immediately after each trial. Based on the relatively mild nature of the air blast, we expected participants to report varying degrees of fear. Those who reported increased fear showed right amygdala activation during the threat condition and left amygdala activation in the safe condition. These procedures offer a promising tool for studying youth with anxiety disorders.