Scientists describe neuronal markers that predict the efficacy of psychological therapy in patients with anxiety

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the first treatment option for people suffering from anxiety disorders. However, only half of the patients show substantial improvement.
  • An international team led by researchers from IDIBELL, IDIBAPS and CIBERSAM have described that the activation of brain regions responsible for identifying relevant stimuli and evaluating the physiological response to them is an indicator of a good prognosis for therapy.
  • Knowing these markers could allow for more personalized therapeutic approaches that would increase the success rate.
NP04 - C Soriano_Ansietat - Imatge

Anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental disorders, including panic disorder, generalized anxiety, social anxiety or specific phobias. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the treatment of choice for this type of disorder, however, only half of the patients show significant improvement.

Now, an international group of scientists led by Drs. Miquel Àngel Fullana and Joaquim Radua, from the Agustí Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS), and Dr. Carles Soriano-Mas, from the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), all of them researchers from the Mental Health CIBER (CIBERSAM), has described that the activation of two specific neuronal circuits is an indicator of a good response to cognitive-behavioral therapy.

The results, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, indicate that people with a greater improvement in anxiety disorder after therapy present, before the start of therapy, increased activation of the brain regions that allow highly relevant stimuli to be identified in the environment. That is, they are capable of clearly distinguishing, for example, between the stimuli that indicate a potential risk and those that do not provide information. In addition, these people also have more active brain regions that allow them to be aware of the physiological effects caused by these stimuli.

The researchers point out: “Knowing the degree of activation of these brain regions before the start of cognitive-behavioral therapy will allow us to improve the clinical management of these patients, since we will be able to predict the effectiveness of the intervention.” And they add: “In the future, these markers, in combination with others, will allow us to carry out more personalized and effective treatments for mental disorders.”

To carry out this study, researchers reviewed the results of the analysis of the functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain of almost 450 patients with anxiety, from 17 previous studies. The analyzes now carried out with these data made it possible to relate the activity of different brain regions during the performance of different tasks with emotional components with the reduction of anxiety symptoms after cognitive-behavioral treatment.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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