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Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1986 Sep;43(9):900-9.

Carbon dioxide sensitivity in panic anxiety. Ventilatory and anxiogenic response to carbon dioxide in healthy subjects and patients with panic anxiety before and after alprazolam treatment.


One hypothesis that could account for the anxiogenic response to breathing air supplemented with carbon dioxide seen in panic anxiety patients is that panic patients might have abnormally high central medullary chemoreceptor sensitivity. Chemoreceptor sensitivity was assessed by using a rebreathing technique to measure the ventilatory response to CO2 in 14 medication-free patients with agoraphobia and panic attacks and 23 healthy subjects. Ventilatory response to CO2 was similar in patients and controls (mean +/- SEM, 1.58 +/- 0.16 vs 1.58 +/- 0.14 L/min/mm Hg), suggesting that abnormal chemoreceptor sensitivity does not explain the behavioral sensitivity of panic patients to CO2. Anxiety ratings increased markedly during rebreathing both in patients and controls; anxiety increases were significantly greater in patients than in healthy subjects matched for age, sex, and rebreathing duration. Alprazolam treatment in eight patients markedly attenuated anxiety increases during rebreathing. Differences in anxiogenic sensitivity to CO2 between patients and controls may be due to differences in the regulation of noradrenergic or other neuronal systems.

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