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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Apr 4;103(14):5585-90. Epub 2006 Mar 27.

Glucocorticoids reduce phobic fear in humans.

Author information

1
Institute of Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Zürich, Zürichbergstrasse 43, CH-8044 Zürich, Switzerland.

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.

PMID:
16567641
PMCID:
PMC1414637
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.0509184103
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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