Threat-related stimuli consistently activate the posterior cingulate cortex in normal subjects and have exaggerated effects on memory in patients with panic disorder. We hypothesized that panic patients would show increased response to threat-related stimuli in the posterior cingulate cortex. While undergoing fMRI, six panic patients and eight healthy volunteers made valence judgements of threat-related and neutral words. Both groups showed threat-related activation in the left posterior cingulate and left middle frontal cortices, but the activation was significantly greater in panic patients. Panic patients also had more right>left asymmetry of activation in the mid-parahippocampal region. The increased responsivity observed in the posterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices is consistent with the hypothesis that panic disorder patients engage in more extensive memory processing of threat-related stimuli.
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