Cortical activity during social acceptance and rejection task

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Cortical activity during social acceptance and rejection task in social anxiety disorder: A controlled functional near infrared spectroscopy study.

BACKGROUND: The cognitive and emotional vulnerability of individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and their response to repeated experiences of social rejection and social acceptance are important factors for the emergence and maintenance of symptoms of the disorder. Functional neuroimaging studies of SAD reveal hyperactivity in regions involved in the fear circuit such as amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate, and prefrontal cortices (PFC) in response to human faces with negative emotions. Observation of brain activity, however, involving studies of responses to standardized human interaction of social acceptance and social rejection have been lacking.
METHODS: We compared a group of index subjects with SAD (N = 22, mean age:26.3 ± 5.4, female/male: 7/15) (SADG) with a group of healthy controls (CG) (N = 21, mean age:28.7 ± 4.5, female/male: 14/7) in measures of cortical activity during standardized experiences of human interaction involving social acceptance (SA) and social rejection (SR) video-simulated handshaking tasks performed by real actors. In a third, control condition (CC), the subjects were expected to press a switch button in an equivalent space. Subjects with a concurrent mood episode were excluded and the severity of subclinical depressive symptoms was controlled. 52-channel functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to measure cortical activity.
RESULTS: Activity was higher in the SAD subjects compared to healthy controls, in particular in channels that project to middle and superior temporal gyri (STG), frontal eye fields (FEF) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in terms of both SA and SR conditions. Cortical activity during the CC was not different between the groups. Only in the SAD-group, activity in the pre-motor and supplementary motor cortices, inferior and middle temporal gyri and fronto-polar area was higher during the rejection condition than the other two conditions. Anxiety scores were correlated with activity in STG, DLPFC, FEF and premotor cortex, while avoidance scores were correlated with activity in STG and FEF.
CONCLUSIONS: SA and SR are represented differently in terms of cortical activity in SAD subjects compared to healthy controls. Higher activity in both social conditions in SAD subjects compared to controls may imply biological sensitivity to these experiences and may underscore the importance of increased cortical activity during social interaction experiences as a putative mediator of vulnerability to SAD. Higher cortical activity in the SADG may possibly indicate stronger need for inhibitory control mechanisms and higher recruitment of theory of mind functions during social stress. Higher activity during the SR compared to the SA condition in the SAD subjects may also suggest distinct processing of social cues, whether they involve acceptance or rejection.

PMID: 32553940 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2020 Jun 14;:110012

Authors: Kir Y, Sayar-Akaslan D, Agtas-Ertan E, Kusman A, Baskak N, Baran Z, Munir K, Baskak B

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