Christian Grillon, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Section on Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety


Wilson House (Building 15K), Room 203
15K North Drive
Bethesda, MD 20814


Research Topics

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.


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.

Selected Publications

  1. Balderston NL, Beydler EM, Goodwin M, Deng ZD, Radman T, Luber B, Lisanby SH, Ernst M, Grillon C. Low-frequency parietal repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces fear and anxiety. Transl Psychiatry. 2020;10(1):68.

  2. Torrisi S, Chen G, Glen D, Bandettini PA, Baker CI, Reynolds R, Yen-Ting Liu J, Leshin J, Balderston N, Grillon C, Ernst M. Statistical power comparisons at 3T and 7T with a GO / NOGO task. Neuroimage. 2018;175:100-110.

  3. Davis M, Walker DL, Miles L, Grillon C. Phasic vs sustained fear in rats and humans: role of the extended amygdala in fear vs anxiety. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010;35(1):105-35.

  4. Torrisi S, Gorka AX, Gonzalez-Castillo J, O'Connell K, Balderston N, Grillon C, Ernst M. Extended amygdala connectivity changes during sustained shock anticipation. Transl Psychiatry. 2018;8(1):33.

  5. Grillon C, Robinson OJ, Cornwell B, Ernst M. Modeling anxiety in healthy humans: a key intermediate bridge between basic and clinical sciences. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019;44(12):1999-2010.

This page was last updated on August 6th, 2020