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Principal Investigator

Photo of Christian Grillon

Christian Grillon, Ph.D.


Christian Grillon, Ph.D. is the Unit Chief of the Affective Psychophysiology Laboratory, National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Grillon received his B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Paris XI, France. He completed his post-doctoral training at the University of California-Irvine and the University of California-San Diego. Before joining the NIMH in September of 2001, he was an Associate Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine. His research focuses on the neurobiology of anxiety and anxiety disorders, and the psychophysiology of emotion.

Research Interests

Dr. Grillon investigates basic psychological and neural mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety to gain a better understanding of their dysfunction in anxiety disorders. He is interested in contrasting the fear-spectrum disorders, such as simple phobia and social anxiety disorder, and the anxiety-spectrum disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder. Toward these goals, Dr. Grillon examines defense mechanisms that mediate fear and anxiety in humans using a translational approach. Fear and anxiety can be studied by exposing subjects to different classes of threats. Responses to threats entail functionally distinct cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes. For example, an imminent threat evokes a phasic fear response, which is an active coping mechanism characterized by fight or flight, while a more distal or uncertain threat generates a more persistent state of anxious apprehension and hypervigilance. Dr. Grillon’s research aims at elucidating the nature of these basic processes and their dysregulation in anxiety disorders. He uses a multiperspective strategy based on psychophysiology to obtain objective measures of aversive states, psychopharmacology to identify defense mechanisms on which anxiolytics operate, and neuroimaging to map the neural structures underlying fear and anxiety. Elucidating pathophysiological mechanisms is a prerequisite for better treatment and classification of anxiety disorders, the most prevalent of the psychiatric disorders.

Selected Publications

Oxytocin increases anxiety to unpredictable threat. Grillon C, Krimsky M, Charney DR, Vytal K, Ernst M, Cornwell B. Mol Psychiatry. 2012 Nov 13. doi: 10.1038/mp.2012.156. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 23147382.

Distinct contributions of human hippocampal theta to spatial cognition and anxiety. Cornwell BR, Arkin N, Overstreet C, Carver FW, Grillon C. Hippocampus. 2012 Sep;22(9):1848-59. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22019. Epub 2012 Mar 30. PMID: 22467298.

Acute tryptophan depletion increases translational indices of anxiety but not fear: serotonergic modulation of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis?. Robinson OJ, Overstreet C, Allen PS, Pine DS, Grillon C. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Jul;37(8):1963-71. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.43. Epub 2012 Apr 11. PMID: 22491355.

Describing the interplay between anxiety and cognition: from impaired performance under low cognitive load to reduced anxiety under high load. Vytal K, Cornwell B, Arkin N, Grillon C. Psychophysiology. 2012 Jun;49(6):842-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2012.01358.x. Epub 2012 Feb 14. PMID: 22332819.

Phasic vs sustained fear in rats and humans: role of the extended amygdala in fear vs anxiety. Davis M, Walker DL, Miles L, Grillon C. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010 Jan;35(1):105-35. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.109. PMID: 19693004.

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