Inhalation of 7.5% Carbon Dioxide Increases Threat Processing in Humans

Inhalation of 7.5% CO2 increases anxiety and autonomic arousal in humans, and elicits fear behaviour in animals. However, it is not known whether CO2 challenge in humans induces dysfunction in neurocognitive processes that characterise generalised anxiety, notably selective attention to environmental threat. Healthy volunteers completed an emotional antisaccade task in which they looked toward or away from (inhibited) negative and neutral stimuli during inhalation of 7.5% CO2 and air. CO2 inhalation increased anxiety, autonomic arousal, and erroneous eye movements toward threat on antisaccade trials. Autonomic response to CO2 correlated with hypervigilance to threat (speed to initiate prosaccades) and reduced threat inhibition (increased orienting toward and slower orienting away from threat on antisaccade trials) independent of change in mood. Findings extend evidence that CO2 triggers fear behaviour in animals via direct innervation of a distributed fear network that mobilises the detection of and allocation of processing resources toward environmental threat in humans.

Authors: Garner, Matthew; Attwood, Angela; Baldwin, David S.; James, Alexandra; Munafo, Marcus R. ;Full Source: Neuropsychopharmacology 2011, 36(8), 1557-1562 (Eng) ;