Aberrant amygdala functional connectivity at rest in pediatric anxiety disorders

BACKGROUND: Childhood onset of anxiety disorders is associated with greater functional impairment and burden across the lifespan. Recent work suggests that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by dysfunctional connectivity in amygdala-based circuits at rest in adolescents, consistent with adults. However, neural mechanisms underlying a broad spectrum of often-comorbid anxiety disorders in children remains unclear and understudied. The current study examines amygdala functional connectivity at rest in children and adolescents across comorbid anxiety disorders (ADs) including youth with primary diagnoses of GAD and social phobia (SP). RESULTS: Compared with healthy controls (HCs), AD youth exhibited hyperconnectivity between the right amygdala and the insula and hypoconnectivity between the left amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Within the AD group, connectivity was not correlated with anxiety severity and only the amygdala-PCC connectivity was positively correlated with age. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that youth with comorbid ADs demonstrate aberrant connectivity in the anterior limbic network (ALN) as well as the PCC at rest. This extends upon previous work suggesting alterations in amygdala circuits underlying fear learning, emotion regulation, and the processing of interoceptive states. Presence of these findings within this young, comorbid sample points to underlying common mechanisms across ADs and illuminates future targets for prevention and intervention in childhood.