BACKGROUND: Although the study of the neuroanatomical correlates of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is gaining increasing interest, up to now the cortical anatomy of GAD patients has been poorly investigated and still no data on cortical gyrification are available. The aim of the present study is to quantitatively examine the cortical morphology in patients with GAD compared with healthy controls (HC) using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study analyzing the gyrification patterns in GAD.
METHODS: A total of 31 GAD patients and 31 HC underwent 3 T structural MRI. For each subject, cortical surface area (CSA), cortical thickness (CT), gray matter volume (GMV), and local gyrification index (LGI) were estimated in 19 regions of interest using the Freesurfer software. These parameters were then compared between the two groups using General Linear Model designs.
RESULTS: Compared with HC, GAD patients showed: (1) reduced CT in right caudal middle frontal gyrus (p < 0.05, Bonferroni corrected), (2) hyper-gyrification in right fusiform, inferior temporal, superior parietal and supramarginal gyri and in left supramarginal and superior frontal gyri (p < 0.05, Bonferroni corrected). No significant alterations in CSA and GMV were observed.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings support the hypothesis of a neuroanatomical basis for GAD, highlighting a possible key role of the right hemisphere. The alterations of CT and gyrification in GAD suggest a neurodevelopmental origin of the disorder. Further studies on GAD are needed to understand the evolution of the cerebral morphology with age and during the clinical course of the illness.