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Reduced error-related activation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex across pediatric anxiety disorders

OBJECTIVE: Abnormalities of cognitive control functions, such as conflict and error monitoring, have been theorized to underlie obsessive-compulsive symptoms but only recently have been considered a potentially relevant psychological construct for understanding other forms of anxiety. The authors sought to determine whether these cognitive control processes elicit the same abnormalities of brain function in patients with pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as in those with non-OCD anxiety disorders. METHOD: Functional magnetic resonance imaging of the Multisource Interference Task was used to measure conflict- and error-related activations in youth (8-18 years) with OCD (n = 21) and non-OCD anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, separation anxiety disorder; n = 23) compared with age-matched healthy controls (n = 25). RESULTS: There were no differences in performance (accuracy, response times) among groups. However, a significant effect of group was observed in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) during error processing, driven by decreased activation in patients with OCD and those with non-OCD anxiety compared with healthy youth. Between patient groups, there was no difference in error-related dlPFC activation. CONCLUSIONS: Hypoactive dlPFC response to errors occurs in pediatric patients with OCD and those with non-OCD anxiety. These findings suggest that insufficient error-related engagement of the dlPFC associates with anxiety across traditional diagnostic boundaries and appears during the early stages of illness.