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Anticipating that Bad Things Will Happen: Anxiety in the Human Brain


Medical Sciences Center (MSC), Room 5235

1300 University Ave.
Madison, WI 53706-1532

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Biological Imaging Lecture Series with Jack Nitschke, departments of psychiatry and psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.




Anxiety disorders cause untold personal suffering and exact a large societal and economic burden. The debilitating consequences of anxiety disorders stem not from heightened responsivity to the occurrence of adverse events, but rather from worry and anticipation about possible future adversity.


Our research program began by studying healthy volunteers in order to investigate the neural mechanisms of anticipatory processes that serve adaptive functions when executed at a level commensurate with the likelihood and severity of threat. Our attention then turned to the deleterious consequences that anticipatory processing can have when conducted excessively relative to the objective likelihood and severity of threat. Key brain areas implicated include the amygdala, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex.


Building on these fMRI findings isolating activation differences in discrete brain regions, our more recent work has utilized a range of other MRI methodologies - fMRI-based functional connectivity, DTI-based structural connectivity, and voxel-based morphometry - to more comprehensively assess circuitry alterations in anxiety disorders.


Finally, we have begun treatment studies with the goal of identifying brain measures that can be used in guiding treatment decisions on an individualized case basis.

Anticipating that Bad Things Will Happen: Anxiety in the Human Brain

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