Glucocorticoid administration restores salience network activity in patients with spider phobia.

Soravia, Leila; Schwab, Simon Gabriel; Weber, Nico; Nakataki, Masahito; Wiest, Roland; Strik, Werner; Heinrichs, Markus; de Quervain, Dominique; Federspiel, Andrea (2018). Glucocorticoid administration restores salience network activity in patients with spider phobia. Depression and anxiety, 35(10), pp. 925-934. Wiley 10.1002/da.22806

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Glucocorticoids reduce phobic fear in patients with anxiety disorders. Although the neurobiology of anxiety disorders is not fully understood, convergent structural and functional neuroimaging studies have identified abnormalities in various brain regions, including those in the salience network (SN) and default mode network (DMN). Here, we examine the effects of glucocorticoid administration on SN and DMN activity during the processing of phobic stimuli.


We use functional magnetic resonance imaging to record brain activity in 24 female patients with spider phobia who were administered either 20 mg of cortisol or placebo while viewing pictures of spiders. Fourteen healthy female participants were tested with the same task but without substance administration. Independent component analysis (ICA) performed during stimulus encoding identified the SN and DMN as exhibiting synchronized activation in diverse brain regions; thus, we examined the effects of cortisol on these networks. Furthermore, participants had to rate their level of fear at various time points.


Glucocorticoids reduced phobic fear in patients with spider phobia. The ICA performed during stimulus encoding revealed that activity in the SN and DMN was reduced in placebo-treated patients versus healthy controls. Brain activity in the SN, but not the DMN, was altered in cortisol- versus placebo-treated patients to a level that was similar to that observed in healthy controls.


Activity in both the SN and DMN was reduced in patients with spider phobia. Cortisol administration altered the SN activity to a level that was comparable to that found in healthy controls. This alteration in SN activity might reflect the fear-reducing effects of glucocorticoids in phobia.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > University Psychiatric Services > University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy > Translational Research Center
04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Radiology, Neuroradiology and Nuclear Medicine (DRNN) > Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Soravia Bachofner, Leila Maria, Schwab, Simon Gabriel, Nakataki, Masahito, Wiest, Roland Gerhard Rudi, Strik, Werner, Heinrichs, Markus, Federspiel, Andrea


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology








Martin Zbinden

Date Deposited:

14 Aug 2018 14:05

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:31

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

default mode network fMRI fear glucocorticoids phobia salience network




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