Specific phobias have the highest prevalence among anxiety disorders. Cognitive control involving the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is crucial for coping abilities in anxiety disorders. However, there is little research on the DLPFC in specific phobia.
Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), we investigated the TMS-evoked potential component N100 in the DLPFC at rest and while watching emotional expressions. The TMS-evoked N100 provides a parameter for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-B-mediated cortical inhibition. Twenty-two drug-free subjects with specific phobia (21 females and 1 male) were compared with 26 control subjects (23 females and 3 males) regarding N100 in the DLPFC at rest and during an emotional 1-back task with fearful, angry, and neutral facial expressions.
At rest, we found reduced N100 amplitudes in the specific phobia compared with the control group. Furthermore, the specific phobia group showed a further reduction in N100 amplitude when memorizing fearful compared with neutral facial expressions.
There appears to be a decrease in GABA-B-mediated inhibition in the DLPFC in subjects with a specific phobia at rest. This decrease was more pronounced under emotional activation by exposure to fearful facial expressions, pointing towards additional state effects of emotional processing on inhibitory function in the DLPFC.