, 204:445 | Cite as

Effects of yohimbine and hydrocortisone on panic symptoms, autonomic responses, and attention to threat in healthy adults

  • Roma A. VasaEmail author
  • Daniel S. Pine
  • Carrie L. Masten
  • Meena Vythilingam
  • Carlos Collin
  • Dennis S. Charney
  • Alexander Neumeister
  • Karin Mogg
  • Brendan P. Bradley
  • Maggie Bruck
  • Christopher S. Monk
Original Investigation



Research in rodents and non-human primates implicates the noradrenergic system and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in stress, anxiety, and attention to threat. Few studies examine how these two neurochemical systems interact to influence anxiety and attention in humans.


The objective of this paper is to examine the effects of exogenous yohimbine and hydrocortisone, as well as their combination (Y + H), on panic symptoms and attention to social threat cues.


Thirty-two healthy adults underwent a pharmacological challenge in which they were blindly randomized to either yohimbine, hydrocortisone, Y + H, or placebo. Thirty minutes after drug infusion, attention to threat was measured using the dot probe task, a visual attention task that presents angry, happy, and neutral faces and measures the degree of attention allocated towards or away from the emotional faces. Panic and autonomic measures were assessed before and 30 min after drug infusion.


There was a significant increase in panic symptoms in the yohimbine and Y + H groups, but not in the hydrocortisone or placebo groups. Yohimbine resulted in a greater increase in panic symptoms than Y + H. On the dot probe task, the placebo group exhibited an attention bias to angry faces, whereas this bias was absent after yohimbine. When collapsing across groups, increased panic symptoms was associated with less attention to angry faces.


Exogenous hydrocortisone may attenuate noradrenergic-induced panic symptoms. The inverse relationship between panic symptoms and attention to angry faces extends prior research demonstrating attention modulation by stressful conditions.


Yohimbine Hydrocortisone Panic symptoms Attention Threat cues Adults 



The experiments conducted in this study comply with the current laws of the United States.

None of the authors have a financial relationship with the organization that sponsored the research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roma A. Vasa
    • 1
    Email author
  • Daniel S. Pine
    • 2
  • Carrie L. Masten
    • 3
  • Meena Vythilingam
    • 2
  • Carlos Collin
    • 2
  • Dennis S. Charney
    • 4
  • Alexander Neumeister
    • 5
  • Karin Mogg
    • 6
  • Brendan P. Bradley
    • 6
  • Maggie Bruck
    • 7
  • Christopher S. Monk
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Kennedy Krieger InstituteJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of HealthDepartment of Health and Human ServicesBethesdaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Departments of Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Biological ChemistryMount Sinai School of MedicineNew YorkUSA
  5. 5.Clinical Neuroscience DivisionYale University School of MedicineWest HavenUSA
  6. 6.School of PsychologyUniversity of SouthamptonSouthhamptonUK
  7. 7.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesJohns Hopkins Medical InstitutionsBaltimoreUSA
  8. 8.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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