In this prospective, longitudinal study of young children, we examined whether a history of preschool generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, and/or social phobia is associated with amygdala-prefrontal dysregulation at school-age. As an exploratory analysis, we investigated whether distinct anxiety disorders differ in the patterns of this amygdala-prefrontal dysregulation. Methods Participants were children taking part in a 5-year study of early childhood brain development and anxiety disorders. Preschool symptoms of generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, and social phobia were assessed with the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment (PAPA) in the first wave of the study when the children were between 2 and 5 years old. The PAPA was repeated at age 6. We conducted functional MRIs when the children were 5.5 to 9.5 year old to assess neural responses to viewing of angry and fearful faces. Results A history of preschool social phobia predicted less school-age functional connectivity between the amygdala and the ventral prefrontal cortices to angry faces. Preschool generalized anxiety predicted less functional connectivity between the amygdala and dorsal prefrontal cortices in response to fearful faces. Finally, a history of preschool separation anxiety predicted less school-age functional connectivity between the amygdala and the ventral prefrontal cortices to angry faces and greater school-age functional connectivity between the amygdala and dorsal prefrontal cortices to angry faces.Conclusions Our results suggest that there are enduring neurobiological effects associated with a history of preschool anxiety, which occur over-and-above the effect of subsequent emotional symptoms. Our results also provide preliminary evidence for the neurobiological differentiation of specific preschool anxiety disorders.
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