Using connectivity-based real-time fMRI neurofeedback to modulate attentional and resting state networks in people with high trait anxiety

Elenor Morgenroth , Francesca Saviola , James Gilleen, Beth Allen, Michael Luhrs, Michael Eysenck, Paul Allen

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High levels of trait anxiety are associated with impaired attentional control, changes in brain activity during attentional control tasks and altered network resting state functional connectivity (RSFC). Specifically, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to anterior cingulate cortex (DLPFC – ACC) functional connectivity, thought to be crucial for effective and efficient attentional control, is reduced in high trait anxious individuals. The current study examined the potential of connectivity-based real-time functional magnetic imaging neurofeedback (rt- fMRI-nf) for enhancing DLPFC – ACC functional connectivity in trait anxious individuals. We specifically tested if changes in DLPFC - ACC connectivity were associated with reduced anxiety levels and improved attentional control. Thirty-two high trait anxious participants were assigned to either an experimental group (EG), undergoing veridical rt-fMRI-nf, or a control group (CG) that received sham (yoked) feedback. RSFC (using resting state fMRI), anxiety levels and Stroop task performance were assessed pre- and post-rt-fMRI-nf training. Post-rt-fMRI-nf training, relative to the CG, the EG showed reduced anxiety levels and increased DLPFC-ACC functional connectivity as well as increased RSFC in the posterior default mode network. Moreover, in the EG, changes in DLPFC – ACC functional connectivity during rt-fMRI-nf training were associated with reduced anxiety levels. However, there were no group differences in Stroop task performance. We conclude that rt-fMRI-nf targeting DLPFC – ACC functional connectivity can alter network connectivity and interactions and is a feasible method for reducing trait anxiety.

© 2020, The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2020

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