Is there a hypersensitive visual alarm system in panic disorder?

Daniela Caldirola*, Roberto Teggi, Stefano Bondi, Fabiana Leao Lopes, Massimiliano Grassi, Mario Bussi, Giampaolo Perna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Agoraphobia in panic disorder (PD) has been related to abnormal balance system function. Vision influences balance and behavioural adaptations; peripheral vision influences orienting and fast defensive reactions whereas central vision analyzes details of objects. We have hypothesized that the abnormal balance function in PD could be mainly related to peripheral vision as part of a defensive alarm system in the brain. In 25 patients with PD and agoraphobia and 31 healthy controls we assessed, by posturography, balance system reactivity to video-films projected in peripheral and central visual fields (randomized sequence). Length, velocity and surface of body sway were calculated. Patients increased their body sway during peripheral stimulation, whereas controls did not; the two groups showed a similar increase of body sway during central stimulation. Anxiety levels during peripheral stimulation significantly influenced the postural response in the group of patients. These preliminary results suggest that the higher visual sensitivity to peripheral stimulation in patients with PD and agoraphobia may be linked to a more active "visual alarm system" involving visual, vestibular and limbic areas that might influence the development of agoraphobia in situations where environmental stimuli are uncertain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-391
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2011


  • Agoraphobia
  • Balance
  • Vision
  • Posturography

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