Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder (SAD), but many patients do not respond sufficiently and a substantial proportion relapse after treatment has ended. Predicting an individual's long-term clinical response therefore remains an important challenge. This study aimed at assessing neural predictors of long-term treatment outcome in participants with SAD 1 year after completion of Internet-delivered CBT (iCBT). Twenty-six participants diagnosed with SAD underwent iCBT including attention bias modification for a total of 13 weeks. Support vector machines (SVMs), a supervised pattern recognition method allowing predictions at the individual level, were trained to separate long-term treatment responders from nonresponders based on blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) responses to self-referential criticism. The Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale was the main instrument to determine treatment response at the 1-year follow-up. Results showed that the proportion of long-term responders was 52% (12/23). From multivariate BOLD responses in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) together with the amygdala, we were able to predict long-term response rate of iCBT with an accuracy of 92% (confidence interval 95% 73.2–97.6). This activation pattern was, however, not predictive of improvement in the continuous Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale—Self-report version. Follow-up psychophysiological interaction analyses revealed that lower dACC–amygdala coupling was associated with better long-term treatment response. Thus, BOLD response patterns in the fear-expressing dACC–amygdala regions were highly predictive of long-term treatment outcome of iCBT, and the initial coupling between these regions differentiated long-term responders from nonresponders. The SVM-neuroimaging approach could be of particular clinical value as it allows for accurate prediction of treatment outcome at the level of the individual.
2015. Vol. 5, e530