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J Anxiety Disord. 2013 Oct;27(7):635-44. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2013.08.005. Epub 2013 Aug 27.

Autonomic responses and neural-cardiac coupling during individually tailored symptom provocation in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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Department of Psychology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. Electronic address:


Elevated anxiety in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been linked to cortico-limbic hyperactivation, whereas hyperarousal of the autonomous nerve system (ANS) has inconsistently been found. We investigate ANS functioning during symptom provocation with individually tailored OCD-relevant pictures in 14 unmedicated patients and 14 controls and link it to activation in brain areas involved in ANS regulation. In addition to OCD-triggers, aversive and neutral control stimuli were included. Both groups showed increased skin conductance and heart rate changes to aversive control stimuli, whereas only patients demonstrated augmented skin conductance responses to OCD-triggers. Overall ANS hyperarousal in patients relative to controls was found at trend level. Activity in limbic and paralimbic areas in OCD patients was increased to both generally aversive and OCD-relevant stimuli, whereas dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) hyperactivation, covarying with cardiac responses in patients but not in controls, was present for disorder-relevant triggers only. Despite the small study group, these preliminary findings suggest ANS hyperactivity during OCD symptom provocation that could reflect arousal to the perceived threatening value of OCD-triggers and might mediate elevated anxiety.


Heart rate; OCD; Skin conductance; fMRI

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