Background: Previous theories implicate hippocampal dysfunction in anxiety disorders. Most of the data supporting these theories stem from animal research, particularly lesion studies. The generalization of findings from rodent models to human function is hampered by fundamental inter-species differences. The present work uses a task of spatial orientation, which is known to rely on hippocampal function. Deficits in spatial navigation in anxious children suggest that the hippocampal network involved in spatial orientation is also implicated in anxiety disorders.
Methods: Thirty-four treatment-naive children with an anxiety disorder (mean 11.00 years ± 2.54) are compared to 35 healthy age- and IQ-matched healthy children (mean 11.95 years ± 2.36) on a virtual, computer-based equivalent of the Morris Water Maze task.
Results: Results indicate that children with anxiety disorder exhibit overall impaired performance relative to the comparison group. Anxious children made more heading direction errors and had worse accuracy in completing trials relative to controls.
Conclusions: The results present novel evidence that spatial orientation deficits occur in pediatric anxiety.