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Christian Grillon, Ph.D., Section Chief

Dr. Grillon received his master degree from the University of Paris VI, France, and his Ph.D. from the University of Paris XI, where he studied motor responses in depressed individuals in the laboratory of Dr. A. Hugelin. During a postdoctoral fellowship with David Braff at the University of California, San Diego, he investigated sensorimotor gating mechanisms using the prepulse inhibition of the startle reflex paradigm in schizophrenics. Dr. Grillon jointed the faculty in the Psychiatry Department at Yale University Medical School in 1988 and moved to NIMH as an Investigator in 2001. His laboratory is studying the neurobiology of anxiety and anxiety disorders, and the psychophysiology of emotion.
Photo of Christian Grillon, Ph.D., Section Chief


Research Interests:
The Section on the Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety uses the tools of psychophysiology, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, neuroimaging, and family study to investigate the neurobiology of fear and anxiety and their dysfunction in anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders in the population at an estimated cost in the US of more than $50 billion per year. Current treatments are hampered by limited efficacy and unwanted side-effects. Obstacles to the development of better treatments include the lack of pathophysiological markers, unsatisfactory classification due to imprecise boundaries between anxiety subtypes and comorbidity, and poor clinical efficacy of candidate anxiolytics discovered through basic research in animals. The ultimate goal of our research is therefore to elucidate the psychological and neurobiological underpinnings of normal and pathologic anxious states in order to inform the etiology, treatment, and classification of anxiety disorders. Our research focuses on identifying the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying fear, a phasic response to an imminent threat, and anxiety, a state of apprehension about anticipated harm. We attempt to understand how fear and anxiety are expressed and how these states interfere and interact with cognitive processes to alter goal directed behaviors.

Clinical Protocols:
  • Cognitive vs. Emotional Psycho-Pharmacological Manipulations of Fear vs. Anxiety ( 14-M-014 )
  • Effects of arousal and stress on classical conditioning ( 01-M-0185 )
  • fMRI investigation of explicit cue and contextual fear ( 02-M-0321 )
  • Predictability and Aversive Expectancies in Anxiety Disorders ( 03-M-0093 )

Selected Recent Publications:
  • Robinson OJ, Lieberman L, Allen P, O'Connell K, Vytal K, Grillon C (InPress) The role of the dorsal medial prefrontal-amygdala 'aversive amplification' circuit in unmedicated pathological anxiety: towards a dimensional diagnosis?, The Lancet Psychiatry.

  • Grillon, C., & Charney, D. R. (InPress) In the face of fear: anxiety sensitizes defensive responses to fearful faces, Psychophysiology.

  • Lissek S, Kaczkurkin AN, Rabin S, Geraci M, Pine DS, Grillon C (2014) Generalized anxiety disorder is associated with overgeneralization of classically conditioned-fear, Biol Psychiatry 75:909-915.

  • Robinson OJ, Overstreet C, Charney DR, Vytal K, Grillon C (2013) Stress increases aversive prediction-error signal in the ventral striatum, PNAS 110, 4129-4133.

  • Grillon C, Krimsky M, Charney DR, Vytal K, Ernst M, Cornwell B (2013) Oxytocin increases anxiety to unpredictable threat , Mol Psychiatry 18, 958-960.

  • Vytal K, Cornwell B, Arkin N, Grillon C (2012) Describing the interplay between anxiety and cognition: From impaired performance under low cognitive load to reduced anxiety under high load, Psychophysiology 49, 842-852.

  • Robinson, O. J., Letkiewicz, A. M., Overstreet, C., Ernst, M., & Grillon , C. (2011) The effect of induced anxiety on cognition: threat of shock enhances aversive processing in healthy individuals, Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 11, 217-227.

All Selected Publications

Contact Information:

Dr. Christian Grillon
Section Chief
Neurobiology of Fear & Anxiety
Building 15k, Room 203
15K North Drive MSC 2670
Bethesda, MD 20892-2670

Telephone: (301) 594-2894 (office), (301) 594-9959 (fax)


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