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Brain metabolism and related connectivity in patients with acrophobia treated by virtual reality therapy: an 18F-FDG PET pilot study sensitized by virtual exposure

  • Verger, Antoine1, 2
  • Malbos, Eric3, 4
  • Reynaud, Emmanuelle5
  • Mallet, Pierre6
  • Mestre, Daniel6
  • Pergandi, Jean-Marie6
  • Khalfa, Stéphanie5
  • Guedj, Eric4, 7, 8
  • 1 Lorraine University, Department of Nuclear Medicine and Nancyclotep Imaging platform, CHRU Nancy, Nancy, France , Nancy (France)
  • 2 IADI, INSERM, UMR 1254, Lorraine University, Nancy, France , Nancy (France)
  • 3 La Conception University Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, Marseille, France , Marseille (France)
  • 4 Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, Ecole Centrale Marseille, UMR 7249, Institut Fresnel, Marseille, France , Marseille (France)
  • 5 Timone University Hospital, Institute of Neurosciences, CNRS UMR7289, Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France , Marseille (France)
  • 6 Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, ISM, Institute of Movement Sciences, Marseille, France , Marseille (France)
  • 7 Timone University Hospital, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Marseille, Marseille, France , Marseille (France)
  • 8 CERIMED, Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France , Marseille (France)
Published Article
EJNMMI Research
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
Oct 01, 2018
DOI: 10.1186/s13550-018-0446-9
Springer Nature


BackgroundThe aim of this pilot study is to investigate the impact of virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) on brain metabolism and connectivity.Eighteen patients with acrophobia were assessed by an 18F-FDG PET scan sensitized by virtual exposure before treatment, and nine of them were assessed again after eight sessions of VRET. Statistical Parametric Mapping was used to study the correlations between metabolism and pretherapeutic clinical scores and to compare metabolism before and after VRET (p voxel < 0.005, corrected for cluster volume). Metabolic connectivity was evaluated through interregional correlation analysis.ResultsBefore therapy, a positive correlation was found between scores on the behavioural avoidance test and left occipital metabolism (BA17-18). After VRET, patients presented increased metabolism in the left frontal superior gyri and the left precentral gyrus, which showed increased metabolic connectivity with bilateral occipital areas (BA17-18-19), concomitant with clinical recovery.ConclusionsThis study highlights the exciting opportunity to use brain PET imaging to investigate metabolism during virtual exposure and reports the involvement of the visual-motor control system in the treatment of acrophobia by VRET.

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