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Brain Changes in Fear

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Know the risks and potential benefits of clinical studies and talk to your health care provider before participating. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT00047853
Recruitment Status : Recruiting
First Posted : October 23, 2002
Last Update Posted : July 1, 2022
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC) ( National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) )

Brief Summary:

The purpose of this study is to use brain imaging technology to investigate brain changes in people exposed to predictable versus unpredictable unpleasant stimuli. Unpleasant events that can be predicted evoke a response of fear, whereas unpredictable, unpleasant stimuli cause chronic anxiety not associated with a specific event. Information gained from this study may help in the development of more effective treatments for anxiety disorders.

When confronted with fearful events, people eventually develop fear of specific cues that were associated with these events as well as to the environmental context in which the fearful event occurred. Evidence suggests that cued fear and contextual fear model different aspects of anxiety. However, studies that examine the way the brain affects expression of contextual fear have not been conducted. This study will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or Magneto-encephalography (MEG) to compare the brain activity underlying fear brought on by predictable and unpredictable aversive stimuli.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment Phase
Anxiety Disorders Fear Device: Shock device Device: Acoustic startle Not Applicable

Detailed Description:
This protocol examines the neurobiology of fear and anxiety using various approaches. During fear conditioning in which a phasic explicit cue (e.g., a light) is repeatedly associated with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (e.g., a shock), the organism develops fear to the explicit cue as well as to the environmental context in which the experiment took place. Experimental evidence suggests that cued fear and contextual fear model different aspects of anxiety. Studies in patients indicated that contextual fear may model an aspect that is especially relevant to anxiety disorders. However, the neural basis for the expression of contextual fear has not previously been elucidated in human imaging studies. One important determinant of contextual fear is predictability: contextual fear increases when a threat (e.g., electric shock) is unpredictable, as opposed to when the threat is predictable. The aim of this study is to compare the neural substrates underlying fear evoked by predictable versus unpredictable shocks. Animal studies have indicated that conditioned responses to predictably cued threat and to less explicit threat are separate processes mediated by distinct brain structures. Psychophysiological data suggest that the proposed procedure can differentiate between these two responses. Hence, we anticipate that this procedure will allow us to compare brain correlates of these responses in humans. Another objective is to study effects of threat of shock on processing and learning of threat cues in the amygdala, the visual and auditory systems, and motivation/reward systems. This will be investigated by means of event-related magneto-encephalography (MEG) and fMRI measurements using various paradigms. Finally, a last project will examine how pharmacologic manipulation of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels with the benzodiazepine alprazolam affects the relationship between GABA concentration (quantified with magnetic resonance spectroscopy, MRS), visual- and auditory-induced gamma oscillations (measured with MEG), and fMRI BOLD response.

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Study Type : Interventional  (Clinical Trial)
Estimated Enrollment : 1872 participants
Allocation: N/A
Intervention Model: Single Group Assignment
Masking: None (Open Label)
Primary Purpose: Basic Science
Official Title: fMRI Investigation of Explicit Cue and Contextual Fear
Actual Study Start Date : November 4, 2002
Estimated Primary Completion Date : July 1, 2022
Estimated Study Completion Date : July 1, 2022

Resource links provided by the National Library of Medicine

MedlinePlus related topics: Anxiety Shock

Arm Intervention/treatment
Experimental: Acoustic startle
loud noises with MEG only
Device: Acoustic startle
Acoustic startle for MEG only

Experimental: Threat of shock
threat of electric shock
Device: Shock device
Electric shock stimulus

Primary Outcome Measures :
  1. event-related magnetic fields [ Time Frame: End of study visit ]
    Magnetoencephalography (MEG) a neuroimaging technique employed in the current protocol to measure the event-related magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain

  2. event-related haemodynamic response [ Time Frame: End of study visit ]
    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), measuring the event-related haemodynamic response related to neural activity in the brain.

Secondary Outcome Measures :
  1. Self-reported measures of anxiety, level of risk, and CS-US contingency awareness. [ Time Frame: End of study visit ]
    Self-reported measures of anxiety, level of risk, and CS-US contingency awareness.

  2. Psychophysiological measures [ Time Frame: End of study visit ]
    Psychophysiological measures of anxious arousal including the skin conductance response (SCR), heart rate, respiration, and EMG measures of the fear-potentiation of the startle reflex.

Information from the National Library of Medicine

Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contacts provided below. For general information, Learn About Clinical Studies.

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Ages Eligible for Study:   18 Years to 50 Years   (Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes

All screening procedures described in this section are conducted under screening protocol 01-M-0254. Subjects must meet the following inclusion criteria in order to participate in the study:

  1. Male or female volunteers ages 18-50 years old.
  2. Judged to be in good physical health on the basis of medical history, a clinical MRI scan, and physical examination. Physical exams will be conducted by a NIMH credentialed physician or nurse. Clinical laboratory tests will be ordered based on his/her discretion.
  3. Healthy subjects judged to be in good psychiatric health on the basis of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV-TR. The SCID will be administered by a credentialed NIMH clinician.
  4. Able to understand procedures and agree to participate in the study by giving written informed consent.
  5. This protocol (02-M-0321) will include patients with a primary diagnosis (under the clinical responsibility of Dr. Daniel Pine) of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, SAD, PTSD, specific phobia, and major depression according to DSM-IV.
  6. Subjects will not be asked to completely stop smoking or drinking coffee during this study because they may experience withdrawal symptoms, which could affect our study results. However, they will be asked to abstain from drinking caffeinated beverage including coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks and from smoking for at least 1 hour prior to testing. They will also be instructed not to drink alcohol on the night prior to testing and on the day of testing.
  7. Speaks English or Spanish fluently (subjects with Major Depressive Disorder, healthy volunteers)
  8. Speaks English fluently (subjects with Anxiety Disorder)


Subjects will be excluded from the study if they meet the following exclusion criteria:

  1. Clinically significant organic disease, e.g., cardiovascular disease.
  2. Clinically significant abnormalities in physical examination.
  3. Any medical condition that increases risk for fMRI (e.g. pacemaker, metallic foreign body in eye).
  4. History of any disease, which in the investigators opinion may confound the results of the study, including, but not limited to, history of organic mental disorders, seizure, or mental retardation.
  5. Have a current diagnosis of alcohol or substance abuse ACCORDING TO DSM IV CRITERIA
  6. Have a lifetime diagnosis of alcohol or substance dependence ACCORDING TO DSM IV CRITERIA.
  7. Unless subject is enrolled as a patient, subjects should not have current Axis I psychiatric disorders as identified with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV, non-patient edition (SCID/NP).
  8. If a healthy volunteer, past bipolar depression and any history of psychosis or delusional disorders.
  9. If a healthy volunteer, first degree relative with history of psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
  10. If a healthy volunteer, psychotropic medication within 4 weeks of scanning
  11. Medications that act on the central nervous system (e.g., Lorazepam, Codeine) and thus may interfere with the interpretation of study results. Specific exclusionary drug classes include but are not limited to: (opioid analgesics, DA receptor agonists, anticholinergics, MAO inhibitors, COMT inhibitors, as well as any illicit substances). In addition, healthy participants may not be on psychotropic medications.
  12. Pregnancy, i.e., a positive Beta-HCG urine test conducted prior to each experiment session.
  13. Current or past history of cubital tunnel syndrome or carpal tunnel syndrome for shock studies that use the wrist for placement of electrodes. Cubital tunnel and carpal tunnel syndrome are exclusionary only for diagnosis on same arm as electrodes and are not exclusionary for studies that place shocks on ankles or feet.
  14. Reynauds syndrome for the cold pressor test experiment
  15. Color blindness (for the active avoidance task only)


Patients who would be unable to comply with study procedures or assessments.

Patients will be excluded if they have a current or past history of any psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, delirium, dementia, amnestic disorder, cognitive disorder not otherwise specified, any of the pervasive developmental disorders, or mental retardation

Patients (except PTSD) on psychotrophic medications within 2 wees of study visits, or within 6 weeks of study visits for fluoxetine will be excluded.

PTSD patients on psychotropics medication within 2 weeks of study visits will be excluded, with the exception of antidepressants, and benzodiazepines; the preceding two classes of medications will not preclude enrollment for PTSD participants only.

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its identifier (NCT number): NCT00047853

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Contact: Morgan Andrews, Ph.D. (301) 594-0642
Contact: Monique Ernst, M.D. (301) 402-9355

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United States, Maryland
National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, 9000 Rockville Pike Recruiting
Bethesda, Maryland, United States, 20892
Contact: For more information at the NIH Clinical Center contact Office of Patient Recruitment (OPR)    800-411-1222 ext TTY8664111010   
Sponsors and Collaborators
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
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Principal Investigator: Monique Ernst, M.D. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Additional Information:
Publications automatically indexed to this study by Identifier (NCT Number):

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Responsible Party: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Identifier: NCT00047853    
Other Study ID Numbers: 020321
First Posted: October 23, 2002    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: July 1, 2022
Last Verified: November 17, 2021
Individual Participant Data (IPD) Sharing Statement:
Plan to Share IPD: No
Plan Description: .We plan to submit de-identified data to the repository.

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Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Drug Product: No
Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Device Product: Yes
Keywords provided by National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC) ( National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) ):
Healthy Volunteer
Additional relevant MeSH terms:
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Anxiety Disorders
Mental Disorders