Drugs targeting N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors and the ability to learn new associations have been proposed as adjunct treatments to boost the success of exposure therapy for anxiety disorders. However, the effects of the NMDA partial agonist D-cycloserine on psychological treatment have been mixed. We investigated potential neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the clinical effects of D-cycloserine-augmented exposure, to inform the optimal combination of this and similar agents with psychological treatment. Panic disorder patients were randomised to single-dose D-cycloserine (250 mg; N = 17) or matching placebo (N = 16) 2hrs before one session of exposure therapy. Neurocognitive markers were assessed one day after treatment, including reaction-time based threat bias for fearful faces (primary outcome) and amygdala response to threat (secondary outcome). Clinical symptom severity was measured the day before and after treatment, and at 1- and 6-months follow-up (secondary outcome). D-cycloserine was associated with greater clinical recovery at 1-month follow-up than placebo (D-cyloserine 71% vs placebo 25%), with the placebo group matching the clinical gains of the D-cycloserine group during 6-months follow-up (D-cycloserine 71% vs placebo 44%). One day after treatment, threat bias for fearful faces and amygdala threat response was lower in the drug compared to placebo group. Lower amygdala magnitude predicted greater clinical improvement during follow-up across groups. While this experimental study is of a preliminary nature due to the limited sample size, these findings highlight a neurocognitive potential mechanism by which D-cycloserine may exert its augmentative effects on psychological treatment and bring forward a marker that may help understand and facilitate development of combination treatments for anxiety. (D-cycloserine Augmented CBT for Panic Disorder; clinicaltrials.gov; NCT01680107).
- Cognitive-behaviour therapy
- Mechanisms of action