Neurobiology of State and Trait Anxiety and Temporal-Frontal Lobe Interactions
My research combines psychological analysis of emotion and memory with physiological analysis of the rhythmical electrical activity called “theta” in both rats and humans.
I use the effects of anxiolytic drugs to link the psychological and physiological levels of analysis and to generalize from laboratory experiments to clinical situations. Anxiolytic drugs reduce anxiety in the clinic, independently of chemical type. I have previously shown, in rats, that they all impair theta and so the function of the temporal lobe. I used a broad range of techniques to allow both neural and psychological analysis. Single unit and evoked potential analysis mapped and assessed the functioning of neural pathways of interest; recording during psychological tasks allowed detailed pharmacological analysis. This included the use a “brain bypass” and other techniques to restore function after neural damage. Each type of analysis guided research in the other areas.
My work now is in translating my previous results into a human anxiety biomarker. Currently, we are investigating the pharmacology and neural control of theta recorded from frontal cortex - analyzing the human EEG for specific neural signatures of goal conflict and linking this to personality measures and the neuroeconomic theory. We have developed a biomarker that detects all classes of anxiolytic drug and is high in some people with anxiety disorders. We are using fMRI to determine its neural source; developing clinical tests based on it; and testing its links to the capacity of ketamine to treat ‘treatment-resistant’ anxiety disorders.
Shadli, S. M., Glue, P., McIntosh, J., McNaughton, N. An improved human anxiety process biomarker: Characterisation of frequency band, personality, and pharmacology. Translational Psychiatry, 5, e699 (2015) pp 7
McNaughton, N. What do you mean “anxiety”? Developing the first anxiety syndrome biomarker. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 48, 177-190 (2018)
Shadli, S. M., Kawe, T., Martin, D., McNaughton, N., Neehoff, S, Glue, P. Ketamine effects on EEG during therapy of treatment-resistant generalized anxiety and social anxiety. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 21, 717-724 (2018)
McNaughton, N. Brain maps of fear and anxiety. Nature Human Behaviour, in press (2019)
McNaughton, N., Glue, P. Ketamine and neuroticism: a double-hit hypothesis of internalizing disorders. Personality Neuroscience. 3, e2 (2020)
Gray, J.A. and McNaughton, N. The Neuropsychology of Anxiety: an enquiry into the functions of the septo-hippocampal system. (2nd edition) Oxford University Press (2000) 424p
e-book also available at:
With 10 electronic appendices originally published on the Oxford University Press website: