Anxiety disorders are among the most frequent psychiatric disorders. Current treatment guidelines recommend antidepressants, the calcium modulator gabapentin, and benzodiazepines as pharmacological treatments. However, delayed onset of action precludes the use of antidepressants as an acute treatment, while benzodiazepines can be recommended only as an emergency treatment due to their inherent risk of dependence. Therefore, an alternative pharmacological agent with acute efficacy is needed. Preliminary evidence points towards possible anxiolytic properties of the atypical antipsychotic quetiapine. The goals of this study were to test the acute anxiolytic properties of quetiapine in patients suffering from arachnophobia in a challenge paradigm, and to assess the effects of quetiapine on the central nervous fear network.Methods:
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled proof-of-concept study, n = 58 arachnophobic patients underwent an fMRI scan while looking at phobia-related and neutral stimuli. Subjective anxiety was evaluated retrospectively in questionnaires.Results:
The functional imaging data revealed that patients showed stronger amygdala activation to phobia-related than to neutral stimuli. However, no effect of quetiapine on fear network activity was detected. Further, on questionnaire measures, quetiapine significantly reduced somatic anxiety symptoms, but had no effect on general psychological anxiety.Conclusion:
Viewing phobic pictures resulted in a robust amygdala activation in arachnophobic patients. Quetiapine seems to have no influence on activation in anxiety-related brain areas but appears to reduce acute somatic anxiety symptoms in patients with specific phobia. The central nervous correlates of the anxiolytic effects of quetiapine remain to be clarified in future studies.