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Glucocorticoids reduce phobic fear in humans


Soravia, L M; Heinrichs, M; Aerni, A; Maroni, C; Schelling, G; Ehlert, Ulrike; Roozendaal, B; de Quervain, D J F (2006). Glucocorticoids reduce phobic fear in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 103(14):5585-5590.

Abstract

Phobias are characterized by excessive fear, cued by the presence or anticipation of a fearful situation. Whereas it is well established that glucocorticoids are released in fearful situations, it is not known whether these hormones, in turn, modulate perceived fear. As extensive evidence indicates that elevated glucocorticoid levels impair the retrieval of emotionally arousing information, they might also inhibit retrieval of fear memory associated with phobia and, thereby, reduce phobic fear. Here, we investigated whether acutely administrated glucocorticoids reduced phobic fear in two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in 40 subjects with social phobia and 20 subjects with spider phobia. In the social phobia study, cortisone (25 mg) administered orally 1 h before a socio-evaluative stressor significantly reduced self-reported fear during the anticipation, exposure, and recovery phase of the stressor. Moreover, the stress-induced release of cortisol in placebo-treated subjects correlated negatively with fear ratings, suggesting that endogenously released cortisol in the context of a phobic situation buffers fear symptoms. In the spider phobia study, repeated oral administration of cortisol (10 mg), but not placebo, 1 h before exposure to a spider photograph induced a progressive reduction of stimulus-induced fear. This effect was maintained when subjects were exposed to the stimulus again 2 days after the last cortisol administration, suggesting that cortisol may also have facilitated the extinction of phobic fear. Cortisol treatment did not reduce general, phobia-unrelated anxiety. In conclusion, the present findings in two distinct types of phobias indicate that glucocorticoid administration reduces phobic fear.

Abstract

Phobias are characterized by excessive fear, cued by the presence or anticipation of a fearful situation. Whereas it is well established that glucocorticoids are released in fearful situations, it is not known whether these hormones, in turn, modulate perceived fear. As extensive evidence indicates that elevated glucocorticoid levels impair the retrieval of emotionally arousing information, they might also inhibit retrieval of fear memory associated with phobia and, thereby, reduce phobic fear. Here, we investigated whether acutely administrated glucocorticoids reduced phobic fear in two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in 40 subjects with social phobia and 20 subjects with spider phobia. In the social phobia study, cortisone (25 mg) administered orally 1 h before a socio-evaluative stressor significantly reduced self-reported fear during the anticipation, exposure, and recovery phase of the stressor. Moreover, the stress-induced release of cortisol in placebo-treated subjects correlated negatively with fear ratings, suggesting that endogenously released cortisol in the context of a phobic situation buffers fear symptoms. In the spider phobia study, repeated oral administration of cortisol (10 mg), but not placebo, 1 h before exposure to a spider photograph induced a progressive reduction of stimulus-induced fear. This effect was maintained when subjects were exposed to the stimulus again 2 days after the last cortisol administration, suggesting that cortisol may also have facilitated the extinction of phobic fear. Cortisol treatment did not reduce general, phobia-unrelated anxiety. In conclusion, the present findings in two distinct types of phobias indicate that glucocorticoid administration reduces phobic fear.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IREM)
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:2006
Deposited On:06 Sep 2011 07:02
Last Modified:07 Dec 2017 08:56
Publisher:National Academy of Sciences
ISSN:0027-8424
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0509184103
PubMed ID:16567641

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