Anxiety Disorders and the Brain's Resting State Networks: From Altered Spatiotemporal Synchronization to Psychopathological Symptoms

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Anxiety disorders include a variety of different disorders including panic disorder (PD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and phobias. We here focus our review on GAD, SAD, and PD and put a specific emphasis on resting state networks and the coupling between the brain and the heart as all anxiety disorders exhibit abnormal perception of their own heartbeat in some way or the other. Resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) studies demonstrate abnormalities in default-mode network (DMN) in all anxiety disorders, e.g., mostly decreases in rsFC of DMN. In contrast, resting state fMRI shows increased rsFC in salience network (SN) (SAD, GAD) and/or somato-motor/sensory network (SMN) (PD). Since rsFC is coherence- or phase-based operating in the infraslow frequency domain (0.01-0.1 Hz), these data suggest spatiotemporal hypo- or hyper-synchronization in DMN and SMN/SN, respectively. These abnormalities in the neural network's spatiotemporal synchronization may, in turn, impact phase-based temporal synchronization of neural and cardiac activities resulting in decreased (DMN) or increased (SMN/SN) neuro-cardiac coupling in anxiety disorders. That, in turn, may be related to the various psychopathological symptoms like unstable sense of self (as based on unstable DMN showing spatiotemporal hypo-synchronization), increased emotions and specifically anxiety (as related to increased SN showing spatiotemporal hyper-synchronization), and increased bodily awareness (mediated by increased SMN with spatiotemporal hyper-synchronization) in anxiety disorders. Taken together, we here suggest altered spatiotemporal synchronization of neural and cardiac activity within the brain's resting state to underlie various psychopathological symptoms in anxiety disorders. Such spatiotemporal basis of psychopathological symptoms is well compatible with the recently suggested "Spatiotemporal Psychopathology."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-90
Number of pages20
JournalAdvances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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