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Neuroenhancement of Exposure Therapy in Anxiety Disorders

Psychotherapy and Emotion Research Laboratory, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA USA

Topical Section: Neuroenhancement

Although exposure-based treatments and anxiolytic medications are more effective than placebo for treating anxiety disorders, there is still considerable room for further improvement. Interestingly, combining these two modalities is usually not more effective than the monotherapies. Recent translational research has identified a number of novel approaches for treating anxiety disorders using agents that serve as neuroenhancers (also known as cognitive enhancers). Several of these agents have been studied to determine their efficacy at improving treatment outcome for patients with anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. In this review, we examine d-cycloserine, yohimbine, cortisol, catecholamines, oxytocin, modafinil, and nutrients such as caffeine and amino fatty acids as potential neuroenhancers. Of these agents, d-cycloserine shows the most promise as an effective neuroenhancer for extinction learning and exposure therapy. Yet, the optimal dosing and dose timing for drug administration remains uncertain. There is partial support for cortisol, catecholamines, yohimbine and oxytocin for improving extinction learning and exposure therapy. There is less evidence to indicate that modafinil and nutrients such as caffeine and amino fatty acids are effective neuroenhancers. More research is needed to determine their long term efficacy and clinical utility of these agents.
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