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Acute anxiety and autonomic arousal induced by CO2 inhalation impairs prefrontal executive functions in healthy humans


Savulich, George; Hezemans, Frank H; van Ghesel Grothe, Sophia; Dafflon, Jessica; Schulten, Norah; Brühl, Annette B; Sahakian, Barbara J; Robbins, Trevor W (2019). Acute anxiety and autonomic arousal induced by CO2 inhalation impairs prefrontal executive functions in healthy humans. Translational Psychiatry, 9:296.

Abstract

Acute anxiety impacts cognitive performance. Inhalation of air enriched with carbon dioxide (CO2) in healthy humans provides a novel experimental model of generalised anxiety, but has not previously been used to assess cognition. We used inhalation of 7.5% CO2 to induce acute anxiety and autonomic arousal in healthy volunteers during neuropsychological tasks of cognitive flexibility, emotional processing and spatial working memory in a single-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, crossover, within-subjects study. In Experiment 1 (n = 44), participants made significantly more extra-dimensional shift errors on the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) Intra-Extra Dimensional Set Shift task under CO2 inhalation compared with 'normal' air. Participants also had slower latencies when responding to positive words and made significantly more omission errors for negative words on the CANTAB Affective Go/No-go task. In Experiment 2 (n = 28), participants made significantly more total errors and had poorer heuristic search strategy on the CANTAB Spatial Working Memory task. In both experiments, CO2 inhalation significantly increased negative affect; state anxiety and fear; symptoms of panic; and systolic blood pressure/heart rate. Overall, CO2 inhalation produced robust anxiogenic effects and impaired fronto-executive functions of cognitive flexibility and working memory. Effects on emotional processing suggested a mood-congruent slowing in processing speed in the absence of a negative attentional bias. State-dependent effects of anxiety on cognitive-emotional interactions in the prefrontal cortex warrant further investigation.

Abstract

Acute anxiety impacts cognitive performance. Inhalation of air enriched with carbon dioxide (CO2) in healthy humans provides a novel experimental model of generalised anxiety, but has not previously been used to assess cognition. We used inhalation of 7.5% CO2 to induce acute anxiety and autonomic arousal in healthy volunteers during neuropsychological tasks of cognitive flexibility, emotional processing and spatial working memory in a single-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, crossover, within-subjects study. In Experiment 1 (n = 44), participants made significantly more extra-dimensional shift errors on the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) Intra-Extra Dimensional Set Shift task under CO2 inhalation compared with 'normal' air. Participants also had slower latencies when responding to positive words and made significantly more omission errors for negative words on the CANTAB Affective Go/No-go task. In Experiment 2 (n = 28), participants made significantly more total errors and had poorer heuristic search strategy on the CANTAB Spatial Working Memory task. In both experiments, CO2 inhalation significantly increased negative affect; state anxiety and fear; symptoms of panic; and systolic blood pressure/heart rate. Overall, CO2 inhalation produced robust anxiogenic effects and impaired fronto-executive functions of cognitive flexibility and working memory. Effects on emotional processing suggested a mood-congruent slowing in processing speed in the absence of a negative attentional bias. State-dependent effects of anxiety on cognitive-emotional interactions in the prefrontal cortex warrant further investigation.

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Psychiatry and Mental Health
Life Sciences > Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Life Sciences > Biological Psychiatry
Language:English
Date:12 November 2019
Deposited On:29 Jan 2020 14:00
Last Modified:11 May 2020 19:28
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2158-3188
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0634-z
PubMed ID:31719527

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