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1.  Too little, too late or too much, too early? Differential hemodynamics of response inhibition in high and low sensation seekers 
Brain research  2012;1481:1-12.
High sensation seeking is associated with strong approach behaviors and weak avoidance responses. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to further characterize the neurobiological underpinnings of this behavioral profile using a Go/No-go task. Analysis of brain activation associated with response inhibition (No-go) versus response initiation and execution (Go) revealed the commonly reported right lateral prefrontal, insula, cingulate, and supplementary motor area network. However, right lateral activation was associated with greater No-go than Go responses only in low sensation seekers. High sensation seekers showed no differential activation in these regions but a more pronounced Go compared to No-go response in several other regions that are involved in salience detection (insula), motor initiation (anterior cingulate) and attention (inferior parietal cortex). Temporal analysis of the hemodynamic response for Go and No-go conditions revealed that the stronger response to Go than No-go trials in high sensation seekers occurred in in the earliest time window in the right middle frontal gyrus, right mid-cingulate and right precuneus. In contrast, the greater No-go than Go response in low sensation seekers occurred in the later time window in these same regions. These findings indicate that high sensation seekers more strongly attend to or process Go trials and show delayed or minimal inhibitory responses on No-go trials in regions that low sensation seekers use for response inhibition. Failure to engage such regions for response inhibition may underlie some of the risky and impulsive behaviors observed in high sensation seekers.
PMCID: PMC3637656  PMID: 22902769
Functional magnetic resonance imaging; cognitive control; personality
2.  Sensation Seeking Predicts Brain Responses in the Old-New Task: Converging Multimodal Neuroimaging Evidence 
Novel images and message content enhance visual attention and memory for high sensation seekers, but the neural mechanisms associated with this effect are unclear. To investigate the individual differences in brain responses to new and old (studied) visual stimuli, we utilized Event-related Potentials (ERP) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) measures to examine brain reactivity among high and low sensation seekers during a classic old-new memory recognition task. Twenty low and 20 high sensation seekers completed separate, but parallel, ERP and fMRI sessions. For each session, participants initially studied drawings of common images, and then performed an old-new recognition task during scanning. High sensation seekers showed greater ERP responses to new objects at the frontal N2 ERP component, compared to low sensation seekers. The ERP Novelty-N2 responses were correlated with fMRI responses in the orbitofrontal gyrus. Sensation seeking status also modulated the FN400 ERP component indexing familiarity and conceptual learning, along with fMRI responses in the caudate nucleus, which correlated with FN400 activity. No group differences were found in the late ERP positive components indexing classic old-new amplitude effects. Our combined ERP & fMRI results suggest that sensation-seeking personality affects the early brain responses to visual processing, but not the later stage of memory recognition.
PMCID: PMC3367102  PMID: 22484516
novelty seeking personality; old-new effect; recognition memory; evoked potentials; brain imaging; ERP; fMRI
3.  High and low sensation seeking adolescents show distinct patterns of brain activity during reward processing 
NeuroImage  2012;0:184-193.
Previous research has shown that personality characteristics, such as sensation seeking (SS), are strong predictors of risk-taking behavior during adolescence. However, the relationship between levels of SS and brain response has not been studied during this time period. Given the prevalence of risky behavior during adolescence, it is important to understand neurobiological differences in reward sensitivity between youth with high and low SS personalities. To this end, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine differences in brain activity in an adolescent sample that included 27 high (HSS) and 27 low sensation seekers (LSS), defined by the Impulsive Sensation Seeking scale of the Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire (Zuckerman et al., 1993). In the scanner, participants played a modified Wheel of Fortune decision-making task (Cservenka and Nagel, 2012) that resulted in trials with monetary Wins or No Wins. We compared age- and sex-matched adolescent HSS and LSS (mean age = 13.94 ± 1.05) on brain activity by contrasting Win versus No Win trials. Our findings indicate that HSS show greater bilateral insular and prefrontal cortex (PFC) brain response on Win vs. No Win compared to LSS. Analysis of simple effects showed that while LSS showed comparable brain activity in these areas during Wins and No Wins, HSS showed significant differences in brain response to winning (activation) versus not winning (deactivation), with between-group comparison suggesting significant differences in brain response, largely to reward absence. Group differences in insular activation between reward receipt and absence may suggest weak autonomic arousal to negative outcomes in HSS compared with LSS. Additionally, since the PFC is important for goal-directed behavior and attention, the current results may reflect that HSS allocate fewer attentional resources to negative outcomes than LSS. This insensitivity to reward absence in HSS may lead to a greater likelihood of maladaptive choices when negative consequences are not considered, and may be an early neural marker of decreased loss sensitivity that has been seen in addiction. This neurobiological information may ultimately be helpful in establishing prevention strategies aimed at reducing youth risk-taking and suggests value in further examination of neural associations with personality characteristics during adolescence.
PMCID: PMC3604176  PMID: 23142276
Adolescence; Sensation Seeking; Reward; fMRI
4.  The role of arousal in the spontaneous regulation of emotions in healthy aging: a fMRI investigation 
Despite ample support for enhanced affective well-being and emotional stability in healthy aging, the role of potentially important dimensions, such as the emotional arousal, has not been systematically investigated in neuroimaging studies. In addition, the few behavioral studies that examined effects of arousal have produced inconsistent findings. The present study manipulated the arousal of pictorial stimuli to test the hypothesis that preserved emotional functioning in aging is modulated by the level of arousal, and to identify the associated neural correlates. Young and older healthy participants were presented with negative and neutral pictures, which they rated for emotional content, while fMRI data were recorded. There were three main novel findings regarding the neural mechanisms underlying the processing of negative pictures with different levels of arousal in young and older adults. First, the common engagement of the right amygdala in young and older adults was driven by high arousing negative stimuli. Second, complementing an age-related reduction in the subjective ratings for low arousing negative pictures, there were opposing patterns of activity in the rostral/ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the amygdala, which showed increased vs. decreased responses, respectively, to low arousing negative pictures. Third, increased spontaneous activity in the ventral ACC/ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in older adults was linked to reduced ratings for low arousing negative pictures. Overall, these findings advance our understanding of the neural correlates underlying processing of negative emotions with different levels of arousal in the context of enhanced emotional functioning in healthy aging. Notably, the results support the idea that older adults have emotion regulation networks chronically activated, in the absence of explicit induction of the goal to regulate emotions, and that this effect is specific to low arousing negative emotions.
PMCID: PMC4112914  PMID: 25120498
emotion control; spontaneous emotion regulation; brain imaging
5.  Emotional speech synchronizes brains across listeners and engages large-scale dynamic brain networks 
Neuroimage  2014;102:498-509.
Speech provides a powerful means for sharing emotions. Here we implement novel intersubject phase synchronization and whole-brain dynamic connectivity measures to show that networks of brain areas become synchronized across participants who are listening to emotional episodes in spoken narratives. Twenty participants' hemodynamic brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they listened to 45-s narratives describing unpleasant, neutral, and pleasant events spoken in neutral voice. After scanning, participants listened to the narratives again and rated continuously their feelings of pleasantness–unpleasantness (valence) and of arousal–calmness. Instantaneous intersubject phase synchronization (ISPS) measures were computed to derive both multi-subject voxel-wise similarity measures of hemodynamic activity and inter-area functional dynamic connectivity (seed-based phase synchronization, SBPS). Valence and arousal time series were subsequently used to predict the ISPS and SBPS time series. High arousal was associated with increased ISPS in the auditory cortices and in Broca's area, and negative valence was associated with enhanced ISPS in the thalamus, anterior cingulate, lateral prefrontal, and orbitofrontal cortices. Negative valence affected functional connectivity of fronto-parietal, limbic (insula, cingulum) and fronto-opercular circuitries, and positive arousal affected the connectivity of the striatum, amygdala, thalamus, cerebellum, and dorsal frontal cortex. Positive valence and negative arousal had markedly smaller effects. We propose that high arousal synchronizes the listeners' sound-processing and speech-comprehension networks, whereas negative valence synchronizes circuitries supporting emotional and self-referential processing.
•We model how emotional speech synchronizes brains across listeners.•Participants listened to emotional and neutral narratives during fMRI scan.•Arousal synchronized auditory cortices and Broca's area.•Valence synchronized limbic system, prefrontal, and orbitofrontal cortices.•Valence and arousal triggered distinct patterns of dynamic functional connectivity.
PMCID: PMC4229500  PMID: 25128711
Emotion; Connectivity; Synchronization; Speech comprehension; Network
6.  Personality modulates the effects of emotional arousal and valence on brain activation 
The influence of personality on the neural correlates of emotional processing is still not well characterized. We investigated the relationship between extraversion and neuroticism and emotional perception using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a group of 23 young, healthy women. Using a parametric modulation approach, we examined how the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal varied with the participants’ ratings of arousal and valence, and whether levels of extraversion and neuroticism were related to these modulations. In particular, we wished to test Eysenck's biological theory of personality, which links high extraversion to lower levels of reticulothalamic–cortical arousal, and neuroticism to increased reactivity of the limbic system and stronger reactions to emotional arousal. Individuals high in neuroticism demonstrated reduced sustained activation in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and attenuated valence processing in the right temporal lobe while viewing emotional images, but an increased BOLD response to emotional arousal in the right medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These results support Eysenck's theory, as well as our hypothesis that high levels of neuroticism are associated with attenuated reward processing. Extraversion was inversely related to arousal processing in the right cerebellum, but positively associated with arousal processing in the right insula, indicating that the relationship between extraversion and arousal is not as simple as that proposed by Eysenck.
PMCID: PMC3475359  PMID: 21948954
arousal; extraversion; fMRI; neuroticism; valence
7.  Functional Connectivity of Pain-Mediated Affect Regulation in Borderline Personality Disorder 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33293.
Affective instability and self-injurious behavior are important features of Borderline Personality Disorder. Whereas affective instability may be caused by a pattern of limbic hyperreactivity paired with dysfunctional prefrontal regulation mechanisms, painful stimulation was found to reduce affective arousal at the neural level, possibly underlying the soothing effect of pain in BPD.
We used psychophysiological interactions to analyze functional connectivity of (para-) limbic brain structures (i.e. amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate cortex) in Borderline Personality Disorder in response to painful stimulation. Therefore, we re-analyzed a dataset from 20 patients with Borderline Personality Disorder and 23 healthy controls who took part in an fMRI-task inducing negative (versus neutral) affect and subsequently applying heat pain (versus warmth perception).
Results suggest an enhanced negative coupling between limbic as well as paralimbic regions and prefrontal regions, specifically with the medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, when patients experienced pain in addition to emotional arousing pictures. When neutral pictures were combined with painful heat sensation, we found positive connectivity in Borderline Personality Disorder between (para-)limbic brain areas and parts of the basal ganglia (lentiform nucleus, putamen), as well areas involved in self-referential processing (precuneus and posterior cingulate).
We found further evidence for alterations in the emotion regulation process in Borderline Personality Disorder, in the way that pain improves the inhibition of limbic activity by prefrontal areas. This study provides new insights in pain processing in BPD, including enhanced coupling of limbic structures and basal ganglia.
PMCID: PMC3299768  PMID: 22428013
8.  Emotional valence and arousal affect reading in an interactive way: Neuroimaging evidence for an approach-withdrawal framework 
Neuropsychologia  2014;56(100):79-89.
A growing body of literature shows that the emotional content of verbal material affects reading, wherein emotional words are given processing priority compared to neutral words. Human emotions can be conceptualised within a two-dimensional model comprised of emotional valence and arousal (intensity). These variables are at least in part distinct, but recent studies report interactive effects during implicit emotion processing and relate these to stimulus-evoked approach-withdrawal tendencies.
The aim of the present study was to explore how valence and arousal interact at the neural level, during implicit emotion word processing. The emotional attributes of written word stimuli were orthogonally manipulated based on behavioural ratings from a corpus of emotion words. Stimuli were presented during an fMRI experiment while 16 participants performed a lexical decision task, which did not require explicit evaluation of a word′s emotional content.
Results showed greater neural activation within right insular cortex in response to stimuli evoking conflicting approach-withdrawal tendencies (i.e., positive high-arousal and negative low-arousal words) compared to stimuli evoking congruent approach vs. withdrawal tendencies (i.e., positive low-arousal and negative high-arousal words). Further, a significant cluster of activation in the left extra-striate cortex was found in response to emotional than neutral words, suggesting enhanced perceptual processing of emotionally salient stimuli.
These findings support an interactive two-dimensional approach to the study of emotion word recognition and suggest that the integration of valence and arousal dimensions recruits a brain region associated with interoception, emotional awareness and sympathetic functions.
•Emotional valence and arousal affect reading interactively.•Positive high-arousal and negative low-arousal words evoke conflicting reactions.•Enhanced right insula activation was found in response to conflicting stimuli.•Insula integrates viscero-sensory and cognitive/evaluative information.•Enhanced extra-striate cortex activation was found for emotional than neutral words.
PMCID: PMC4098114  PMID: 24440410
Valence; Arousal; Approach; Withdrawal; Emotional words; fMRI
9.  Functional MRI of the Brain in Women with Overactive Bladder: Brain Activation During Urinary Urgency 
To identify abnormal function of the limbic cortex (LC) in response to urinary urgency among patients with Overactive Bladder (OAB) using brain functional MRI (fMRI)
5 OAB subjects and 5 Controls underwent bladder filling and rated urgency sensations while fMRI measured activation in discrete volumes (voxels) within the brain. Changes in brain activation were related to bladder distension and individual subject’s rating of urgency via multiple regression analysis. Beta weights from regression equations were converted into percent signal change (PSC) for each voxel and PSC compared to the null hypothesis using T-tests. Significance threshold of P<.05 was applied along with a cluster size threshold of.32 ml (5 voxels).
OAB patients showed increased brain activation in LC, specifically the insula (IN) and Anterior Cingulate Gyrus (ACG), associated with increased urgency. Urgency sensations during low volumes were associated with bilateral IN activation in OAB subjects (7,621 voxels right IN, 4,453 voxels left IN, mean beta weights .018 +/− .014 and .014 +/− .011) Minimal activation was present in Controls (790 voxels right IN, beta weight =.010 +/− .007). Urgency sensations during high volumes were associated with bilateral ACG activation in OAB subjects (2,304 voxels right IN, 5,005 voxels left IN, mean beta weights of 005 +/− .003 and 004+/−.003) without activation in Controls.
Urinary urgency in patients with OAB is associated with increased activation of the LC. This activation likely represents abnormal processing of sensory input in brain regions associated with emotional response to discomfort.
PMCID: PMC3051367  PMID: 21399722
OAB; fMRI; urinary urgency
10.  Sex Differences in Stress Response Circuitry Activation Dependent on Female Hormonal Cycle 
Understanding sex differences in stress regulation has important implications for understanding basic physiological differences in the male and female brain and their impact on vulnerability to sex differences in chronic medical disorders associated with stress response circuitry. In this fMRI study, we demonstrated that significant sex differences in brain activity in stress response circuitry were dependent on women's menstrual cycle phase. Twelve healthy Caucasian premenopausal women were compared to a group of healthy men from the same population, based on age, ethnicity, education, and right-handedness. Subjects were scanned using negative valence/high arousal versus neutral visual stimuli that we demonstrated activated stress response circuitry (amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, brainstem, orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices (OFC and mPFC), and anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). Women were scanned twice based on normal variation in menstrual cycle hormones (i.e., early follicular (EF) compared with late follicular-midcycle menstrual phases (LF/MC)). Using SPM8b, there were few significant differences in BOLD signal changes in men compared to EF women, except ventromedial (VMN) and lateral (LHA) hypothalamus, left amygdala, and ACG. In contrast, men exhibited significantly greater BOLD signal changes compared to LF/MC women on bilateral ACG and OFC, mPFC, LHA, VMN, hippocampus, and periaqueductal gray, with largest effect sizes in mPFC and OFC. Findings suggest that sex differences in stress response circuitry are hormonally regulated via the impact of subcortical brain activity on the cortical control of arousal, and demonstrate that females have been endowed with a natural hormonal capacity to regulate the stress response that differs from males.
PMCID: PMC2827936  PMID: 20071507
fMRI; Stress; Sex difference; Arousal; Hypothalamus; Amygdala; HPA axis
11.  Sex Differences in Emotion-related Cognitive Processes in Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Healthy Control Subjects 
Pain  2013;154(10):2088-2099.
Greater responsiveness of emotional arousal circuits in relation to delivered visceral pain has been implicated as underlying central pain amplification in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), with females showing greater responses than males.
Functional MRI was used to measure neural responses to an emotion recognition paradigm, using faces expressing negative emotions (fear and anger). Sex and disease differences in the connectivity of affective and modulatory cortical circuits were studied in 47 IBS (27 premenopausal females) and 67 healthy controls (HCs; 38 premenopausal females).
Male subjects (IBS+HCs) showed greater overall brain responses to stimuli than female subjects in prefrontal cortex, insula, and amygdala. Effective connectivity analyses identified major sex and disease related differences in the functioning of brain networks related to prefrontal regions, cingulate, insula, and amygdala. Males had stronger connectivity between anterior cingulate subregions, amygdala, and insula, whereas females had stronger connectivity to and from the prefrontal modulatory regions (medial/dorsolateral cortex).
Male IBS demonstrate greater engagement of cortical and affect related brain circuitry compared to male controls and females, when viewing faces depicting emotions previously shown to elicit greater behavioral and brain responses in male subjects.
PMCID: PMC4049231  PMID: 23791896
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); sex differences; emotion recognition
12.  Brain encoding of acupuncture sensation - coupling on-line rating with fMRI 
NeuroImage  2009;47(3):1055-1065.
Acupuncture-induced sensations have historically been associated with clinical efficacy. These sensations are atypical, arising from sub-dermal receptors, and their neural encoding is not well known. In this fMRI study, subjects were stimulated at acupoint PC-6, while rating sensation with a custom-built, MR-compatible potentiometer. Separate runs included real (ACUP) and sham (SHAM) acupuncture, the latter characterized by non-insertive, cutaneous stimulation. FMRI data analysis was guided by the on-line rating timeseries, thereby localizing brain correlates of acupuncture sensation. Sensation ratings correlated with stimulation more (p<0.001) for SHAM (r=0.63) than for ACUP (r=0.32). ACUP induced stronger and more varied sensations with significant persistence into no-stimulation blocks, leading to more runtime spent rating low and moderate sensations compared to SHAM. ACUP sensation correlated with activation in regions associated with sensorimotor (SII, insula) and cognitive (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC)) processing, and deactivation in default-mode network (DMN) regions (posterior cingulate, precuneus). Compared to SHAM, ACUP yielded greater activity in both anterior and posterior dmPFC and dlPFC. In contrast, SHAM produced greater activation in sensorimotor (SI, SII, insula) and greater deactivation in DMN regions. Thus, brain encoding of ACUP sensation (more persistent and varied, leading to increased cognitive load) demonstrated greater activity in both cognitive/evaluative (posterior dmPFC) and emotional/interoceptive (anterior dmPFC) cortical regions. Increased cognitive load and dmPFC activity may be a salient component of acupuncture analgesia - sensations focus attention and accentuate bodily awareness, contributing to enhanced top-down modulation of any nociceptive afference and central pain networks. Hence, acupuncture may function as a somatosensory-guided mind-body therapy.
PMCID: PMC2733781  PMID: 19500677
13.  Dissociable roles for lateral orbitofrontal cortex and lateral prefrontal cortex during preference driven reversal learning 
Neuroimage  2012;59-20(4):4102-4112.
One of the archetypal task manipulations known to depend on frontal-lobe function is reversal learning, where a dominant response must be overridden due to changes in the contingencies relating stimuli, responses, and environmental feedback. Previous studies have indicated that the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC), the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (LOFC), the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the caudate nucleus (CN) all contribute to reversal learning. However, the exact contributions that they make during this cognitively complex task remain poorly defined. Here, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examine which of the cognitive processes that contribute to the performance of a reversal best predicts the pattern of activation within distinct sub-regions of the frontal lobes. We demonstrate that during reversal learning the LOFC is particularly sensitive to the implementation of the reversal, whereas the LPFC is recruited more generally during attentional control. By contrast, the ACC and CN respond when new searches are initiated regardless of whether the previous response is available, whilst medial orbitofrontal cortex (MOFC) activity is correlated with the positive affect of feedback. These results accord well with the hypothesis that distinct components of adaptable behaviour are supported by anatomically distinct components of the executive system.
► We model fMRI data at distinct stages of a reward driven reversal learning task. ► Lateral orbitofrontal cortex responds particularly strongly at the point of reversal. ► Lateral prefrontal cortex shows a similar response during other switches. ► Medial orbitofrontal cortex activity correlates with the rewarding value of feedback. ► Anterior cingulate cortex and caudate respond whenever new searches are initiated.
PMCID: PMC3391678  PMID: 22075266
Reversal learning; fMRI; Executive function; Attention; Frontal lobe
14.  Brain Correlates of Phasic Autonomic Response to Acupuncture Stimulation: An Event-Related fMRI Study 
Human brain mapping  2012;34(10):2592-2606.
Autonomic nervous system (ANS) response to acupuncture has been investigated by multiple studies; however, the brain circuitry underlying this response is not well understood. We applied event-related fMRI (er-fMRI) in conjunction with ANS recording (heart rate, HR; skin conductance response, SCR). Brief manual acupuncture stimuli were delivered at acupoints ST36 and SP9, while sham stimuli were delivered at control location, SH1. Acupuncture produced activation in S2, insula, and mid-cingulate cortex, and deactivation in default mode network (DMN) areas. On average, HR deceleration (HR–) and SCR were noted following both real and sham acupuncture, though magnitude of response was greater following real acupuncture and inter-subject magnitude of response correlated with evoked sensation intensity. Acupuncture events with strong SCR also produced greater anterior insula activation than without SCR. Moreover, acupuncture at SP9, which produced greater SCR, also produced stronger sharp pain sensation, and greater anterior insula activation. Conversely, acupuncture-induced HR– was associated with greater DMN deactivation. Between-event correlation demonstrated that this association was strongest for ST36, which also produced more robust HR–. In fact, DMN deactivation was significantly more pronounced across acupuncture stimuli producing HR–, versus those events characterized by acceleration (HR+). Thus, differential brain response underlying acupuncture stimuli may be related to differential autonomic outflows and may result from heterogeneity in evoked sensations. Our er-fMRI approach suggests that ANS response to acupuncture, consistent with previously characterized orienting and startle/defense responses, arises from activity within distinct subregions of the more general brain circuitry responding to acupuncture stimuli.
PMCID: PMC3646924  PMID: 22504841
orienting response; defense response; acupoint; skin conductance response; heart rate
15.  Temporal summation of heat pain in humans: Evidence supporting thalamocortical modulation 
Pain  2010;150(1):93-102.
Noxious cutaneous contact heat stimuli (48°C) are perceived as increasingly painful when the stimulus duration is extended from 5 to 10 seconds, reflecting the temporal summation of central neuronal activity mediating heat pain. However, the sensation of increasing heat pain disappears, reaching a plateau as stimulus duration increases from 10 to 20 seconds. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 10 healthy subjects to determine if active central mechanisms could contribute to this psychophysical plateau. During heat pain durations ranging from 5 to 20 s, activation intensities in the bilateral orbitofrontal cortices and the activation volume in the left primary (S1) somatosensory cortex correlated only with perceived stimulus intensity and not with stimulus duration. Activation volumes increased with both stimulus duration and perceived intensity in the left lateral thalamus, posterior insula, inferior parietal cortex, and hippocampus. In contrast, during the psychophysical plateau, both the intensity and volume of thalamic and cortical activations in the right medial thalamus, right posterior insula, and left secondary (S2) somatosensory cortex continued to increase with stimulus duration but not with perceived stimulus intensity. Activation volumes in the left medial and right lateral thalamus, and the bilateral mid-anterior cingulate, left orbitofrontal, and right S2 cortices also increased only with stimulus duration. The increased activity of specific thalamic and cortical structures as stimulus duration, but not perceived intensity, increases is consistent with the recruitment of a thalamocortical mechanism that participates in the modulation of pain-related cortical responses and the temporal summation of heat pain.
PMCID: PMC2916061  PMID: 20494516
16.  Neural correlates of individual differences in pain-related fear and anxiety 
Pain  2005;120(1-2):69-77.
Although individual differences in fear and anxiety modulate the pain response and may even cause more suffering than the initiating physical stimulus, little is known about the neural systems mediating this relationship. The present study provided the first examination of the neural correlates of individual differences in the tendency to (1) feel anxious about the potentially negative implications of physical sensations, as measured by the anxiety sensitivity index (ASI), and (2) fear various types of physical pain, as indexed by the fear of pain questionnaire (FPQ). In separate sessions, participants completed these questionnaires and experienced alternating blocks of noxious thermal stimulation (45–50 °C) and neutral thermal stimulation (38 °C) during the collection of whole-brain fMRI data. Regression analyses demonstrated that during the experience of pain, ASI scores predicted activation of a medial prefrontal region associated with self-focused attention, whereas FPQ scores predicted activation of a ventral lateral frontal region associated with response regulation and anterior and posterior cingulate regions associated with monitoring and evaluation of affective responses. These functional relationships cannot be wholly explained by generalized anxiety (indexed by STAI-T scores), which did not significantly correlate with activation of any regions. The present findings may help clarify both the impact of individual differences in emotion on the neural correlates of pain, and the roles in anxiety, fear, and pain processing played by medial and orbitofrontal systems.
PMCID: PMC2914607  PMID: 16364548
Anxiety sensitivity; Fear of pain; Pain; Medial prefrontal cortex; Orbitofrontal cortex; Anxiety; Brain imaging; Fear; Pain behavior
17.  The effect of age on neural processing of pleasant soft touch stimuli 
Tactile interactions with our environment stimulate afferent fibers within the skin, which deliver information about sensations of pain, texture, itch and other feelings to the brain as a comprehensive sense of self. These tactile interactions can stimulate brain regions involved in interoception and reward processing. This study examined subjective, behavioral, and neural processing as a function of age during stimulation of A-beta (Aβ) and C tactile (CT) afferents using a soft brush stroke task. 16 adolescents (ages 15–17), 22 young adults (ages 20–28), and 20 mature adults (ages 29–55) underwent a simple continuous performance task while periodically anticipating and experiencing a soft touch to the palm or forearm, during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). fMRI results showed that adolescents displayed greater bilateral posterior insula activation than young and mature adults across all conditions and stimulus types. Adolescents also demonstrated greater bilateral posterior insula activation than young and mature adults specifically in response to the soft touch condition. Adolescents also exhibited greater activation than mature adults in bilateral inferior frontal gyrus and striatum during the soft touch condition. However, mature adults showed greater striatum activation than adolescents and young adults during anticipation. In the left anterior cingulate cortex, mature adults exhibited greater activation than adolescents and young adults when anticipating the upcoming touch. These results support the hypothesis that adolescents show an exaggerated neural response to pleasant stimulation of afferents, which may have profound effects on how they approach or avoid social and risky situations. In particular, heightened interoceptive reactivity to pleasant stimuli might cause adolescents to seek experiences that are associated with pleasant stimulation.
PMCID: PMC3930859  PMID: 24600366
interoception; fMRI; development; CT afferents; reward; touch; adolescence; insular cortex
18.  The alexithymic brain: the neural pathways linking alexithymia to physical disorders 
Alexithymia is a personality trait characterized by difficulties in identifying and describing feelings and is associated with psychiatric and psychosomatic disorders. The mechanisms underlying the link between emotional dysregulation and psychosomatic disorders are unclear. Recent progress in neuroimaging has provided important information regarding emotional experience in alexithymia. We have conducted three brain imaging studies on alexithymia, which we describe herein. This article considers the role of emotion in the development of physical symptoms and discusses a possible pathway that we have identified in our neuroimaging studies linking alexithymia with psychosomatic disorders. In terms of socio-affective processing, alexithymics demonstrate lower reactivity in brain regions associated with emotion. Many studies have reported reduced activation in limbic areas (e.g., cingulate cortex, anterior insula, amygdala) and the prefrontal cortex when alexithymics attempt to feel other people’s feelings or retrieve their own emotional episodes, compared to nonalexithymics. With respect to primitive emotional reactions such as the response to pain, alexithymics show amplified activity in areas considered to be involved in physical sensation. In addition to greater hormonal arousal responses in alexithymics during visceral pain, increased activity has been reported in the insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and midbrain. Moreover, in complex social situations, alexithymics may not be able to use feelings to guide their behavior appropriately. The Iowa gambling task (IGT) was developed to assess decision-making processes based on emotion-guided evaluation. When alexithymics perform the IGT, they fail to learn an advantageous decision-making strategy and show reduced activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a key area for successful performance of the IGT, and increased activity in the caudate, a region associated with impulsive choice. The neural machinery in alexithymia is therefore activated more on the physiologic, motor-expressive level and less in the cognitive-experiential domains of the emotional response system. Affects may play an important role in alleviating intrinsic physiologic reactions and adapting to the environment. Deficient development of emotional neural structures may lead to hypersensitivity to bodily sensations and unhealthy behaviors, a possible mechanism linking alexithymia to psychosomatic disorders.
PMCID: PMC3563604  PMID: 23302233
Affect; Alexithymia; Emotional dysregulation; Neuroimaging; Psychosomatic disorders
19.  Functional neuroimaging of conversion disorder: The role of ancillary activation 
NeuroImage : Clinical  2014;6:333-339.
Previous functional neuroimaging studies investigating the neuroanatomy of conversion disorder have yielded inconsistent results that may be attributed to small sample sizes and disparate methodologies. The objective of this study was to better define the functional neuroanatomical correlates of conversion disorder.
Ten subjects meeting clinical criteria for unilateral sensory conversion disorder underwent fMRI during which a vibrotactile stimulus was applied to anesthetic and sensate areas. A block design was used with 4 s of stimulation followed by 26 s of rest, the pattern repeated 10 times. Event-related group averages of the BOLD response were compared between conditions.
All subjects were right-handed females, with a mean age of 41. Group analyses revealed 10 areas that had significantly greater activation (p < .05) when stimulation was applied to the anesthetic body part compared to the contralateral sensate mirror region. They included right paralimbic cortices (anterior cingulate cortex and insula), right temporoparietal junction (angular gyrus and inferior parietal lobule), bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (middle frontal gyri), right orbital frontal cortex (superior frontal gyrus), right caudate, right ventral-anterior thalamus and left angular gyrus. There was a trend for activation of the somatosensory cortex contralateral to the anesthetic region to be decreased relative to the sensate side.
Sensory conversion symptoms are associated with a pattern of abnormal cerebral activation comprising neural networks implicated in emotional processing and sensory integration. Further study of the roles and potential interplay of these networks may provide a basis for an underlying psychobiological mechanism of conversion disorder.
•fMRI was used to study subjects with unilateral sensory conversion disorder.•Sensory stimulation of anesthetic body part compared to sensate mirror region•10 brain regions, including right limbic cortices and TPJ, were abnormally active.•Implicated neural networks may provide a mechanism for conversion disorder.
PMCID: PMC4215400  PMID: 25379447
Conversion disorder; Functional neuroimaging; Sensory
20.  Resting state amygdala-prefrontal connectivity predicts symptom change after cognitive behavioral therapy in generalized social anxiety disorder 
Aberrant amygdala-prefrontal interactions at rest and during emotion processing are implicated in the pathophysiology of generalized social anxiety disorder (gSAD), a common disorder characterized by fears of potential scrutiny. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is first-line psychotherapy for gSAD and other anxiety disorders. While CBT is generally effective, there is a great deal of heterogeneity in treatment response. To date, predictors of success in CBT for gSAD include reduced amygdala reactivity and increased activity in prefrontal regulatory regions (e.g., anterior cingulate cortex, “ACC”) during emotion processing. However, studies have not examined whether tonic (i.e., at rest) coupling of amygdala and these prefrontal regions also predict response to CBT.
Twenty-one patients with gSAD participated in resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before 12 weeks of CBT. Overall, symptom severity was significantly reduced after completing CBT; however, the patients varied considerably in degree of symptom change. Whole-brain voxel-wise findings showed symptom improvement after CBT was predicted by greater right amygdala-pregenual ACC (“pgACC”) connectivity and greater left amygdala-pgACC coupling encompassing medial prefrontal cortex. In support of their predictive value, area under receiver operating characteristic curve was significant for the left and right amygdala-pgACC in relation to treatment responders.
Improvement after CBT was predicted by enhanced resting-state bilateral amygdala-prefrontal coupling in gSAD. Preliminary results suggest baseline individual differences in a fundamental circuitry that may underlie emotion regulation contributed to variation in symptom change after CBT. Findings offer a new approach towards using a biological measure to foretell who will most likely benefit from CBT. In particular, the departure from neural predictors based on illness-relevant stimuli (e.g., socio-emotional stimuli in gSAD) permits the development of biomarkers that reflect commonalities in the neurobiology of anxiety and mood disorders.
PMCID: PMC4276016  PMID: 25540682
Generalized social anxiety; fMRI; Treatment; Brain imaging; Rest
21.  Proactive and Reactive Control During Emotional Interference and its Relationship to Trait Anxiety 
Brain research  2012;1481:13-36.
In classic Stroop paradigms, increasing the proportion of control-demanding incongruent trials results in strategic adjustments in behavior and implementation of cognitive control processes. We manipulated expectancy for incongruent trials in an emotional facial Stroop task to investigate the behavioral and neural effects of proportion manipulation in a cognitively demanding task with emotional stimuli. Subjects performed a high expectancy (HE) task (65% incongruent trials) and a low expectancy (LE) task (35% incongruent trials) during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As in standard Stroop tasks, behavioral interference was reduced in the emotional facial Stroop HE task compared to the LE task. Functional MRI data revealed a switch in cognitive control strategy, from a reactive, event-related activation of a medial and lateral cognitive control network and right amygdala in the LE task to a proactive, sustained activation of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in the HE task. Higher trait anxiety was associated with impairment (slower response time and decreased accuracy) as well as reduced activity in left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior insula, and orbitofrontal cortex in the HE task on high conflict trials with task-irrelevant emotional information, suggesting that individual differences in anxiety may be associated with expectancy-related strategic control adjustments, particularly when emotional stimuli must be ignored.
PMCID: PMC3541031  PMID: 22960116
amygdala; anterior cingulate cortex; conflict monitoring; fMRI; prefrontal cortex; sustained and transient control
22.  Neural Mechanisms Underlying 5-HTTLPR Related Sensitivity to Acute Stress 
The American journal of psychiatry  2012;169(4):397-405.
Many studies have shown that 5-HTTLPR genotype interacts with exposure to stress in conferring risk for psychopathology. However, the specific neural mechanisms through which this gene-by-environment interaction confers risk remain largely unknown, and no study to date has directly examined the modulatory effects of the 5-HTTLPR on corticolimbic circuit responses during exposure to acute stress.
An acute laboratory stressor was administered to 51 healthy women during BOLD fMRI scanning. In this task, electric shocks of uncertain intensity were threatened and unpredictably delivered to the wrist after a long anticipatory cue period of unpredictable duration.
Relative to those carrying the L allele, SS homozygotes showed enhanced activation during threat anticipation in a network of regions including amygdala, hippocampus, anterior insula, thalamus, pulvinar, caudate, precuneus, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex. SS homozygotes also displayed enhanced positive coupling between medial prefrontal cortex activation and anxiety experience, whereas individuals carrying the L allele displayed enhanced negative coupling between insula activation and perceived success at regulating anxiety.
The present findings suggest that, when exposed to stress, SS homozygotes may preferentially engage neural systems which enhance fear and arousal, modulate attention toward threat, and perseverate on emotional salience of the threat. This may be one mechanism underlying risk for psychopathology conferred by the S allele upon exposure to life stressors.
PMCID: PMC3761065  PMID: 22362395
23.  Neuroimaging of Gastric Distension and Gastric Bypass Surgery 
Appetite  2013;71:459-465.
Several neuroimaging studies are presented, which derived from prior work on gastric distension. Using a nonsurgical approach, we inserted gastric balloons into rats, which led to a marked decrease in food intake that normalized at 8 weeks. Body weight, however, remained below controls, which encouraged pursuit of studies in humans. A gastric balloon was inserted in obese and lean subjects, and filled through a tube that led behind the subject with water to 0, 200, 400, 600, 800 mL, on different days prior to ingestion of a liquid meal. As gastric volume increased, intake decreased by about 40%. Stomach capacity was then investigated using a gastric balloon, by assessing subjective (maximal tolerance) and objective measures (gastric compliance). Obese individuals had a much larger stomach capacity than lean by both measures. Next, in a 2-month study, an indwelling gastric balloon was inflated to 400 mL for 1 month and deflated for 1 month in counterbalanced order. Body weight was reduced during the month when the balloon was inflated within the 2nd and 3rd week. The subsequent study involved fMRI in response to gastric distension of 0, 250, and 500 mL while the subject was in a scanner. Ratings of fullness, but not discomfort, increased at 500 mL. Amygdala and insula activation were associated with gastric distension. The amygdala, as part of the limbic system, is involved in emotion and reward, and the insula in interoception. The right amygdala activation was inversely related to BMI, consistent with greater gastric capacity ata higher BMI. The next fMRI study in obese and lean subjects used visual and auditory stimuli of high energy dense (ED) and low ED foods. Increased activation was observed in the midbrain, putamen, posterior cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, and superior temporal gyrus in the obese vs. lean group in response to high vs. low ED food cues. Several of these areas lie within the mesolimbic reward pathway, and greater activation to high ED foods in the obese, suggests they have increased reward-driven eating behavior. Lastly, an fMRI study using the same stimuli was conducted pre and post gastric bypass surgery. There were postsurgical reductions in neural activity in mesolimbic areas including the prefrontal cortex, to a greater degree for high ED than low ED cues, reflecting more normalized responses. Through the use of various methodologies, the stomach’s influence on food intake, sensations of fullness, and brain activation is described with suggestions for future research.
PMCID: PMC3919638  PMID: 23932915
gastric volume; gastric balloon; fMRI; functional imaging; satiety; brain; voxels
24.  Neural Basis of Anticipatory Anxiety Reappraisals 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e102836.
Reappraisal is a well-known emotion regulation strategy. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest that reappraisal recruits both medial and lateral prefrontal brain regions. However, few studies have investigated neural representation of reappraisals associated with anticipatory anxiety, and the specific nature of the brain activity underlying this process remains unclear. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate neural activity associated with reappraisals of transient anticipatory anxiety. Although transient anxiety activated mainly subcortical regions, reappraisals targeting the anxiety were associated with increased activity in the medial and lateral prefrontal regions (including the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortices). Reappraisal decreased fear circuit activity (including the amygdala and thalamus). Correlational analysis demonstrated that reductions in subjective anxiety associated with reappraisal were correlated with orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex activation. Reappraisal recruits medial and lateral prefrontal regions; particularly the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortices are associated with successful use of this emotion regulation strategy.
PMCID: PMC4105563  PMID: 25048028
25.  Enhanced rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation during cognitive control is related to orbitofrontal volume reduction in unipolar depression 
In patients with major depressive disorder (MDD), enhanced activation of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) during conflict resolution has been demonstrated with the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which suggests dysregulation of the affective compartment of the ACC associated with error monitoring and cognitive control. Moreover, several previous studies have reported disrupted structural integrity in limbic brain areas and the orbitofrontal cortex in MDD. However, the relation between structural and functional alterations remains unclear. Therefore, the present study sought to investigate whether structural brain aberrations in terms of grey matter decreases directly in the medial frontal regions or in anatomically closely connected areas might be related to our previously reported functional alterations.
A sample of 16 female, drug-free patients with an acute episode of MDD and 16 healthy control subjects matched for age, sex and education were examined with structural high-resolution T1-weighted MRI; fMRI images were obtained in the same session.
Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) revealed grey matter decreases in the orbitofrontal and subgenual cortex, in the hippocampus-amygdala complex and in the middle frontal gyrus. The relative hyperactivation of the rACC in terms of inability to deactivate this region during the Stroop Color-Word Test showed an inverse correlation with grey matter reduction in the orbitofrontal cortex.
The present study provides strong evidence for an association between structural alterations in the orbitofrontal cortex and disturbed functional activation in the emotional compartment of the ACC in patients with MDD during cognitive control.
PMCID: PMC2441889  PMID: 18592043
magnetic resonance imaging; depressive disorder; depression

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