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Section Chief

Christian Grillon, Ph.D.

Section on Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety

Building 15k Room 203
15K North Drive
Bethesda MD 20892-2670
Office: (301) 594-2894

Fax: (301) 594-9959

Dr. Grillon received his master degree from the University of Paris VI, France, and his Ph.D. from the University of Paris XI, where he studied motor responses in depressed individuals in the laboratory of Dr. A. Hugelin. During a postdoctoral fellowship with David Braff at the University of California, San Diego, he investigated sensorimotor gating mechanisms using the prepulse inhibition of the startle reflex paradigm in schizophrenics. Dr. Grillon jointed the faculty in the Psychiatry Department at Yale University Medical School in 1988 and moved to NIMH as an Investigator in 2001. His laboratory is studying the neurobiology of anxiety and anxiety disorders, and the psychophysiology of emotion.

The Section on the Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety uses the tools of psychophysiology, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, neuroimaging, and family study to investigate the neurobiology of fear and anxiety and their dysfunction in anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders in the population at an estimated cost in the US of more than $50 billion per year. Current treatments are hampered by limited efficacy and unwanted side-effects. Obstacles to the development of better treatments include the lack of pathophysiological markers, unsatisfactory classification due to imprecise boundaries between anxiety subtypes and comorbidity, and poor clinical efficacy of candidate anxiolytics discovered through basic research in animals. The ultimate goal of our research is therefore to elucidate the psychological and neurobiological underpinnings of normal and pathologic anxious states in order to inform the etiology, treatment, and classification of anxiety disorders. Our research focuses on identifying the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying fear, a phasic response to an imminent threat, and anxiety, a state of apprehension about anticipated harm. We attempt to understand how fear and anxiety are expressed and how these states interfere and interact with cognitive processes to alter goal directed behaviors.

Clinical Protocol

  • Cognitive vs. Emotional Psycho-Pharmacological Manipulations of Fear vs. Anxiety ( 14-M-014 )

  • Effects of arousal and stress on classical conditioning ( 01-M-0185 )

  • fMRI investigation of explicit cue and contextual fear ( 02-M-0321 )

  • Predictability and Aversive Expectancies in Anxiety Disorders ( 03-M-0093 )

Staff Image
  • Nicholas Balderston, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Monique Ernst, M.D., Ph.D.
    Medical Advisory and Principal Investigator

  • Marilla Geraci, MSN

  • Adam Gorka, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Patrick Korb, R.N.

  • Emily Page, FNP
    Medical Licensed Independent Practitioner

  • Deborah Roberts, Ph.D.
    Research Coordinator

  • Lesley Wathen
    Administrative Assistant

  • 1) Balderston, N. L., Beydler, E., Goodwin, M., Deng, Z.-D., Radman, T., Luber, B., Lisanby, S.H., Ernst, M., Grillon, C (2020)
  • Low-frequency parietal repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces fear and anxiety
  • Transl Psychiatry
  • 2) Robinson, O., Pike, A., Cornwell, B., Grillon, C (2019)
  • The translational neural circuitry of anxiety
  • J Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry , 12: 1353-1360
  • 3) Grillon, C., Robinson, O.J., Cornwell, B., Ernst, M (2019)
  • Modeling anxiety in healthy humans: A key intermediate bridge between basic and clinical sciences
  • Neuropsychopharmacol, 44, 1999-2010
  • 4) Torrisi, S., Chen, G., Glen, D., Bandettini, P.A., Baker, C.I., Reynolds, R., Yen-Ting Liu, J., Leshin, J., Balderston, N., Grillon, C., Ernst, M (2018)
  • Statistical power comparisons at 3T and 7T with a GO / NOGO task
  • Neuroimage, 175, 100-110
  • 5) Torrisi S, Gorka AX, Gonzalez-Castillo J, O’Connell K, Balderston N, et al (2018)
  • Extended amygdala connectivity changes during sustained shock anticipation
  • Translational Psychiatry , 8:33
  • 6) Gorka AX, Torrisi S, Shackman SJ, Grillon C, Ernst M (2018)
  • Intrinsic functional connectivity of the central nucleus of the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis
  • Neuroimage
  • 7) Torrisi S, Nord CL, Balderston NL, Roiser JP, Grillon C, Ernst M (2017)
  • Resting state connectivity of the human habenula at ultra-high field
  • NeuroImage, 147, 872-79
  • 8) Grillon C, O’Connell K, Lieberman L, Alvarez G, Geraci M, et al (2017)
  • Distinct responses to predictable and unpredictable threat in anxiety pathologies: Effect of panic attack
  • Biol Psychiatry: CNNI , 2, 575-81
  • 9) Cornwell BR, Garrido MI, Overstreet C, Pine DS, Grillon C. (2017)
  • The un-predictive brain under threat: a neuro-computational account of anxious hypervigilance
  • Biol Psychiatry, 82, 447-54
  • 10) Balderston NL, Hale E, Hsiung A, Torrisi S, Holroyd T, Carver FW, Coppola R, Ernst M, Grillon C (2017)
  • Threat of shock increases excitability and connectivity of the intraparietal sulcus
  • Elife, 6, 1–27
  • 11) Balderston, NL, Liu, J, Roberson-Nay, R, Ernst, M, & Grillon, C (2017)
  • The relationship between dlPFC activity during unpredictable threat and CO2-induced panic symptoms
  • Translational Psychiatry, 7(12), 1266
  • 12) Balderston NL, Hsiung A, Ernst M, Grillon C (2017)
  • The effect of threat on right dlPFC activity during behavioural pattern separation
  • J Neurosci , 37, 9160-71
  • 13) Grillon C, Robinson OJ, O’Connell K, Davis A, Alvarez G, et al. (2017)
  • Clinical anxiety promotes excessive response inhibition
  • Psychological Medicine , 47, 484-94
  • 14) Balderston, N., Vytal, K. E., O'Connell, K., Torrisi, S. J., Letkiewicz, A., Ernst, M., et al. (2016)
  • Anxiety Patients Show Reduced Working Memory Related DLPFC Activation During Safety and Threat
  • Depression and Anxiety, 1–12
  • 15) Torrisi, S. J., O'Connell, K., Davis, A., Reynolds, R., Balderston, N., Fudge, J. L., et al. (2015)
  • Resting state connectivity of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis at ultra-high field
  • Human Brain Mapping, 36(10), 4076–4088
  • 16) Vytal, K. E., Overstreet, C., Charney, D. R., Robinson, O. J., & Grillon, C (2014)
  • Sustained anxiety increases amygdala–dorsomedial prefrontal coupling: a mechanism for maintaining an anxious state in healthy adults
  • Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: JPN, 39(4), 130145
  • 17) Lissek S, Kaczkurkin AN, Rabin S, Geraci M, Pine DS, Grillon C (2014)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder is associated with overgeneralization of classically conditioned-fear
  • Biol Psychiatry, 75, 909-915
  • 18) Grillon,C., Cordova,J., Levine, L., Morgan, C.A., III (2014)
  • Anxiolytic effects of the group II metabotropic glutamate receptors LY354740 in the fear-potentiated sartle paradigm in humans
  • Psychopharmacology
  • 19) Grillon, C., & Charney, D. R. (2014)
  • In the face of fear: anxiety sensitizes defensive responses to fearful faces
  • Psychophysiology
  • 20) Robinson OJ, Lieberman L, Allen P, O'Connell K, Vytal K, Grillon C (2014)
  • The role of the dorsal medial prefrontal-amygdala 'aversive amplification' circuit in unmedicated pathological anxiety: towards a dimensional diagnosis?
  • The Lancet Psychiatry
  • 21) Robinson OJ, Overstreet C, Charney DR, Vytal K, Grillon C (2013)
  • Stress increases aversive prediction-error signal in the ventral striatum
  • PNAS , 110, 4129-4133
  • 22) Grillon C, Krimsky M, Charney DR, Vytal K, Ernst M, Cornwell B (2013)
  • Oxytocin increases anxiety to unpredictable threat
  • Mol Psychiatry, 18, 958-960
  • 23) Robinson, O. J., Vytal, K. E., Cornwell, B. R., & Grillon, C. (2013)
  • The impact of anxiety upon cognition: perspectives from human threat of shock studies
  • Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 1-21
  • 24) Schmitz, A., & Grillon, C. (2012)
  • Assessing fear and anxiety in humans using the threat of predictable and unpredictable aversive events (the NPU-threat test).
  • Nature Protocols, 7(3), 527–532
  • 25) Vytal K, Cornwell B, Arkin N, Grillon C (2012)
  • Describing the interplay between anxiety and cognition: From impaired performance under low cognitive load to reduced anxiety under high load
  • Psychophysiology, 49, 842-852
  • 26) Grillon, C., & Charney, D. R. (2012)
  • In the face of fear: anxiety sensitizes defensive responses to fearful faces
  • Psychophysiology
  • 27) Grillon , C., Heller, R., Hirschhorn, E., Kling, M. A., Pine, D. S., Schulkin, J., et al. (2011)
  • Acute hydrocortisone treatment increases anxiety but not fear in healthy volunteers: a fear-potentiated startle study
  • Biol Psychiatry, 69, 549-555
  • 28) Robinson, O. J., Letkiewicz, A. M., Overstreet, C., Ernst, M., & Grillon , C. (2011)
  • The effect of induced anxiety on cognition: threat of shock enhances aversive processing in healthy individuals
  • Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 11, 217-227
  • 29) Alvarez, R. P., Chen, G., Bodurka, J., Kaplan, R., & Grillon, C. (2011)
  • Phasic and sustained fear in humans elicits distinct patterns of brain activity
  • Neuroimage, 1(389-400).
  • 30) Cornwell, B. R., Alvarez, R. P., Lissek, S., Kaplan, R., Ernst, M., & Grillon, C. (2011)
  • Anxiety overrides the blocking effects of high perceptual load on amygdala reactivity to threat-related distractors
  • Neuropsychologia, 49, 1363-1368
  • 31) Davis, M., Walker, D. L., Miles, L., & Grillon, C. (2010)
  • Phasic vs Sustained Fear in Rats and Humans: Role of the Extended Amygdala in Fear vs Anxiety
  • Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(1), 105–135
  • 32) Grillon,C., Cordova,J., Levine, L., Morgan, C.A., III (2003)
  • Anxiolytic effects of the group II metabotropic glutamate receptors LY354740 in the fear-potentiated sartle paradigm in humans
  • Psychopharmacology
  • 33) Grillon C (2002)
  • Startle reactivity and anxiety disorders: Aversive conditioning, context, and neurobiology
  • Biological Psychiatry, 52, 958-975
  • 34) Grillon, C. (2002)
  • Associative learning deficits increase symptoms of anxiety in humans
  • Biological Psychiatry, 51, 851-858
  • 35) Grillon,C., Morgan, C.A., III (1999)
  • Fear-potentiated startle conditioning to explicit and contextual cues in Gulf war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108, 134-142
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