Background: Panic disorder (PD) has a strong genetic component showing high heritability rates and familial aggregation.
Moreover, there is evidence for associations between parental PD and patterns of psychopathology. So far, little is known about possible
endophenotypes representing premorbid vulnerability markers in high-risk subjects for PD. In the present study, we investigated saccadic
eye movement (SEM) as an index of CNS inhibitory function in subjects at high risk for PD.
Methods: 132 healthy children at high and low familial risk for PD were included in the study. Basal SEM parameters were obtained using
an electro-oculography (EOG) based system measuring peak saccadic eye velocity (pSEV), latency and accuracy. Moreover, with regard
to self rating scales, state-trait-anxiety (STAI-C), childhood behavioral inhibition (CSRI), and anxiety sensitivity (CASI) were assessed.
Results: There was a significant overall difference for basal SEM parameters across groups as revealed by MANCOVA (F7,118=2.184,
p=.040). A significant influence was found for the covariate age, while gender and puberty status had no influence on SEM. High-risk
(HR) subjects showed significantly lower pSEV. Moreover, levels of state and trait anxiety were higher in HR children (F1=5.429,
Discussion: In our sample, measurement of pSEV allowed discrimination between children at high and low risk for PD. Since these results
argue for possible alterations of saccadic function in high risk subjects, differences in underlying neurobiological mechanisms might
be discussed as a possible endophenotype of PD.