Researchers from MIT, Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital say they can use brain scans to help predict the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy on patients suffering from social anxiety disorder. Their conclusion stems from the results of a small study published this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Patients in the study looked at images of angry or neutral faces while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan. The scans were performed both prior to and after a total of 12 weekly cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.
According to the researchers, pretreatment responses "significantly predicted subsequent treatment outcome[s]."
"This was a chance to ask if these brain measures, taken before treatment, would be informative in ways above and beyond what physicians can measure now and determine who would be responsive to this treatment," said senior paper author John Gabrieli, a MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences, according to MITnews. At present, Gabrieli said, very little evidence exists about which treatments are optimal for such patients.
Gabrieli also hypothesized that one reason activity in the brain regions pertaining to visual processing proved to be a good predictor for treatment outcomes was that those who benefited more already were able to segregate different types of experiences. He said that follow-up research is in the works to determine if MRIs can also predict differences in responses between CBT and drug treatments.
"The really valuable thing would be if it turns out to be differentially sensitive to different treatment choices," he said.