Two new publications from SLEIC researchers

Koraly Perez-Edgar, associate professor of psychology at Penn State and SSRI co-funded faculty, and colleagues have written two new publications on brain networks and event related potential measures of attention bias in children with behavior inhibition. The first publication, "Altered topography of intrinsic functional connectivity in childhood risk for social anxiety. Depression & Anxiety, " is in press.

Background: Extreme shyness in childhood arising from behavioral inhibition (BI) is among the strongest risk factors for developing social anxiety. Although no imaging studies of intrinsic brain networks in BI children have been reported, adults with a history of BI exhibit altered functioning of frontolimbic circuits and enhanced processing of salient, personally-relevant information. BI in childhood may be marked by increased coupling of salience (insula) and default (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) network hubs.

Methods: We tested this potential relation in 42 children ages 9 to 12, oversampled for high-BI. Participants provided resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. A novel topographical pattern analysis of salience network intrinsic functional connectivity was conducted, and the impact of salience-default coupling on the relation between BI and social anxiety symptoms was assessed via moderation analysis.

Results: High-BI children exhibit altered salience network topography, marked by reduced insula connectivity to dorsal anterior cingulate and increased insula connectivity to ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Whole-brain analyses revealed increased connectivity of salience, executive, and sensory networks with default network hubs in children higher in BI. Finally, the relation between insula-ventromedial prefrontal connectivity and social anxiety symptoms was strongest among the highest BI children.

Conclusions: BI is associated with an increase in connectivity to default network hubs that may bias processing toward personally-relevant information during development. These altered patterns of connectivity point to potential biomarkers of the neural profile of risk for anxiety in childhood.

The second publication, "Neural correlates of attention biases, behavioral inhibition, and anxiety in children: An ERP study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience", is also in press.

Behavioral inhibition (BI) is a biologically-based temperament characterized by vigilance toward threat. Over time, many children with BI increasingly fear social circumstances and display maladaptive social behavior. BI is also one of the strongest individual risk factors for developing social anxiety disorder. Although research has established a link between BI and anxiety, its causal mechanism remains unclear. Attention biases may underlie this relation. The current study examined neural markers of the BI-Attention-Anxiety link in children ages 9-12 years (N=99, Mean=9.97, SD=0.97). ERP measures were collected as children completed an attention-bias (dot-probe) task with neutral and angry faces. P2 and N2 amplitudes were associated with social anxiety and attention bias, respectively. Specifically, augmented P2 was related to decreased symptoms of social anxiety and moderated the relation between BI and social anxiety, suggesting that increasing attention mobilization may serve as a compensatory mechanism that attenuates social anxiety in individuals with high BI. The BI by N2 interaction found that larger N2 related to threat avoidance with increasing levels of BI, consistent with over-controlled socio-emotional functioning. Lastly, children without BI (BN) showed an augmented P1 to probes replacing angry faces, suggesting maintenance of attentional resources in threat-related contexts.