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.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging; cognitive control; personality
Operant extinction, which features modification of instrumental responses to stimuli following a change in associated reinforcement, is an important form of learning for organisms in dynamic environments. Animal studies have highlighted orbital and medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala as mediators of operant extinction. Yet little is known about the neural mediators of operant extinction learning in humans. Using a novel fMRI paradigm, we report dissociable functional responses in distinct regions of medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) during successful appetitive and aversive based operant extinction. During successful operant extinction, increased activity was observed in frontopolar OFC, while decreased activity was observed in caudal mOFC and rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) relative to both (i) successful control trials where the reinforcement associated with the stimulus does not change; and (ii) successful acquisition trials during initial learning of the stimulus- reinforcement associations. Functional connectivity analysis demonstrated inverse connectivity between frontopolar OFC and both rACC and the amygdala. These data support animal models suggesting the importance of mOFC - amygdala interaction during operant extinction and expand our knowledge of the neural systems in humans. These findings suggest that in humans, frontopolar OFC modulates activity in caudal mOFC, rACC and amygdala during successful operant extinction learning.
frontopolar; amygdala; instrumental; anterior cingulate cortex
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.
fMRI; Stress; Sex difference; Arousal; Hypothalamus; Amygdala; HPA axis
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.
novelty seeking personality; old-new effect; recognition memory; evoked potentials; brain imaging; ERP; fMRI
Women have approximately twice the risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) than men, yet this difference remains largely unexplained. Previous MDD research suggests high rates of endocrine dysfunction, which may be related to deficits in brain activity in stress response circuitry [hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)]. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the relationship between hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG)-axis hormones and stress response circuitry dysfunction in MDD in women.
During the late follicular/midcycle phase of the menstrual cycle, female participants (10 with extensive histories of MDD, in remission, 10 healthy controls) were scanned while viewing negative and neutral arousal pictures. Group differences in blood oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signal changes were analyzed using SPM2. Baseline gonadal hormones included estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone.
fMRI results showed greater BOLD signal intensity changes in controls versus MDD in hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, OFC, ACC, and subgenual ACC, findings unrelated to medication status. MDD women had a lower serum estradiol and higher serum progesterone compared to controls. Hypoactivations in hypothalamus, subgenual ACC, amygdala and OFC in MDD were associated with low estradiol and high progesterone.
Generalizability of our findings is limited by small sample size and restriction to females, although this did not affect the internal validity of the results.
Hypoactivation of the stress response circuitry in MDD women is associated with dysregulation of the HPG-axis. Associations between brain activity deficits and hormonal disruption in MDD may ultimately contribute to understanding sex differences in MDD.
Depression; stress; hormones; fMRI; HPG; women’s mental health; mood; HPA
Affective empathy (AE) is distinguished clinically and neurally from cognitive empathy (CE). While AE is selectively disrupted in psychopathy, autism is associated with deficits in CE. Despite such dissociations, AE and CE together contribute to normal human empathic experience. A dimensional measure of individual differences in AE ‘relative to’ CE captures this interaction and may reveal brain–behavior relationships beyond those detectable with AE and CE separately. Using resting-state fMRI and measures of empathy in healthy adults, we show that relative empathic ability (REA) is reflected in the brain's intrinsic functional dynamics. Dominance of AE was associated with stronger functional connectivity among social–emotional regions (ventral anterior insula, orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, perigenual anterior cingulate). Dominance of CE was related to stronger connectivity among areas implicated in interoception, autonomic monitoring and social–cognitive processing (brainstem, superior temporal sulcus, ventral anterior insula). These patterns were distinct from those observed with AE and CE separately. Finally, REA and the strength of several functional connections were associated with symptoms of psychopathology. These findings suggest that REA provides a dimensional index of empathic function and pathological tendencies in healthy adults, which are reflected in the intrinsic functional dynamics of neural systems associated with social and emotional cognition.
affective empathy; cognitive empathy; fMRI; resting-state functional connectivity; social cognition
The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a sensitive test for the detection of decision-making impairments in several neurologic and psychiatric populations. Very few studies have employed the IGT in fMRI investigations, in part, because the task is cognitively complex. Here we report a method for exploring brain activity using fMRI during performance of the IGT. Decision-making during the IGT was associated with activity in several brain regions in a group of healthy individuals. The activated regions were consistent with the neural circuitry hypothesized to underlie somatic marker activation and decision-making. Specifically, a neural circuitry involving the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (for working memory), the insula and posterior cingulate cortex (for representations of emotional states), the mesial orbitofrontal and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (for coupling the two previous processes), the ventral striatum and anterior cingulate/SMA (supplementary motor area) for implementing behavioral decisions was engaged. These results have implications for using the IGT to study abnormal mechanisms of decision making in a variety of clinical populations.
Decision making; fMRI; IGT; Somatic Marker Hypothesis
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to measure activity in three frontal cortical areas, lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC), medial orbitofrontal cortex/ventromedial frontal cortex (mOFC/vmPFC), and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) when expectations about type of reward, and not just reward presence or absence, could be learned. Two groups of human subjects learned twelve stimulus-response pairings. In one group (Consistent), correct performances of a given pairing were always reinforced with a specific reward outcome whereas in the other group (Inconsistent), correct performances were reinforced with randomly selected rewards. MOFC/vmPFC and lOFC were not distinguished by simple differences in relative preference for positive and negative outcomes. Instead lOFC activity reflected updating of reward-related associations specific to reward type; lOFC was active whenever informative outcomes allowed updating of reward-related associations regardless of whether the outcomes were positive or negative and the effects were greater when consistent stimulus-outcome and response-outcome mappings were present. A psycho-physiological interaction (PPI) analysis demonstrated changed coupling between lOFC and brain areas for visual object representation, such as perirhinal cortex, and reward-guided learning, such as amygdala, ventral striatum, and habenula /mediodorsal thalamus. By contrast mOFC/vmPFC activity reflected expected values of outcomes and occurrence of positive outcomes, irrespective of consistency of outcome mappings. The third frontal cortical region, ACC, reflected the use of reward type information to guide response selection. ACC activity reflected the probability of selecting the correct response, was greater when consistent outcome mappings were present, and was related to individual differences in propensity to select the correct response.
Empathy, which implies a shared interpersonal experience, is implicated in many aspects of social cognition, notably prosocial behavior, morality and the regulation of aggression. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the current knowledge in developmental and affective neuroscience with an emphasis on the perception of pain in others. It will be argued that human empathy involves several components: affective arousal, emotion understanding and emotion regulation, each with different developmental trajectories. These components are implemented by a complex network of distributed, often recursively connected, interacting neural regions including the superior temporal sulcus, insula, medial and orbitofrontal cortices, amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex, as well as autonomic and neuroendocrine processes implicated in social behaviors and emotional states. Decomposing the construct of empathy into subcomponents that operate in conjunction in the healthy brain and examining their developmental trajectory provides added value to our current approaches to understanding human development. It can also benefit our understanding of both typical and atypical development.
Affective neuroscience; Amygdala; Empathy; Theory of mind; Neurodevelopment; Orbitofrontal cortex; Ventromedial prefrontal cortex
Nausea is a commonly occurring symptom typified by epigastric discomfort with the urge to vomit. To date, the brain circuitry underlying the autonomic nervous system response to nausea has not been fully understood. Functional MRI (fMRI), together with a point process adaptive recursive algorithm for computation of the high-frequency (HF) index of heart rate variability (HRV) was combined to evaluate the brain circuitry underlying autonomic nervous system response to nausea. Alone, the point process analysis revealed increasing sympathetic and decreasing parasympathetic response during nausea with significant increased heart rate (HR) and decreased HF. The combined HRV-fMRI analysis demonstrated that the fMRI signal in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC), regions of higher cortical functions and emotion showed a negative correlation at the baseline and a positive correlation during nausea. Overall, our findings confirm a sympathovagal shift (toward sympathetic) during nausea, which was related to brain activity in regions associated with emotion and higher cognitive function.
Music evokes complex emotions beyond pleasant/unpleasant or happy/sad dichotomies usually investigated in neuroscience. Here, we used functional neuroimaging with parametric analyses based on the intensity of felt emotions to explore a wider spectrum of affective responses reported during music listening. Positive emotions correlated with activation of left striatum and insula when high-arousing (Wonder, Joy) but right striatum and orbitofrontal cortex when low-arousing (Nostalgia, Tenderness). Irrespective of their positive/negative valence, high-arousal emotions (Tension, Power, and Joy) also correlated with activations in sensory and motor areas, whereas low-arousal categories (Peacefulness, Nostalgia, and Sadness) selectively engaged ventromedial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. The right parahippocampal cortex activated in all but positive high-arousal conditions. Results also suggested some blends between activation patterns associated with different classes of emotions, particularly for feelings of Wonder or Transcendence. These data reveal a differentiated recruitment across emotions of networks involved in reward, memory, self-reflective, and sensorimotor processes, which may account for the unique richness of musical emotions.
emotion; fMRI; music; striatum; ventro-medial prefrontal cortex
Prior neuroimaging studies support the hypothesis that anticipation, an important component of anxiety, may be mediated by activation within the insular and medial prefrontal cortices including the anterior cingulate cortex. However, there is an insufficient understanding of how affective anticipation differs across anxiety groups in emotional brain loci and networks. We examined 14 anxiety positive (AP) and 14 anxiety normative (AN) individuals completing an affective picture anticipation task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Brain activation was examined across groups for cued anticipation (to aversive or pleasant stimuli). Both groups showed greater activation in the bilateral anterior insula during cued differential anticipation (i.e., aversive vs. pleasant) and activation on the right was significantly higher in AP compared to AN subjects. Functional connectivity showed that the left anterior insula was involved in a similar network during pleasant anticipation in both groups. The left anterior insula during aversive and the right anterior insula during all anticipation conditions co-activated with a cortical network consisting of frontal and parietal lobes in the AP group to a greater degree. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that anxiety is related to greater anticipatory reactivity in the brain and that there may be functional asymmetries in the brain that interact with psychiatric traits.
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.
arousal; extraversion; fMRI; neuroticism; valence
Rejections of unfair offers in the ultimatum game (UG) are commonly assumed to reflect negative emotional arousal mediated by the anterior insula and medial prefrontal cortex. We aimed to disentangle those neural mechanisms associated with direct personal involvement (‘I have been treated unfairly’) from those associated with fairness considerations, such as the wish to discourage unfair behavior or social norm violations (‘this person has been treated unfairly’). For this purpose, we used fMRI and asked participants to play the UG as responders either for themselves (myself) or on behalf of another person (third party). Unfair offers were equally often rejected in both conditions. Neuroimaging data revealed a dissociation between the medial prefrontal cortex, specifically associated with rejections in the myself condition, thus confirming its role in self-related emotional responses, and the left anterior insula, associated with rejections in both myself and third-party conditions, suggesting a role in promoting fair behavior also toward third parties. Our data extend the current understanding of the neural substrate of social decision making, by disentangling the structures sensitive to direct emotional involvement of the self from those implicated in pure fairness considerations.
insula; medial prefrontal cortex; economical choice; emotional arousal; punishment; third party
There is growing interest in understanding the neurobiology of major depressive disorder (MDD) in youth, particularly in the context of neuroimaging studies. This systematic review provides a timely comprehensive account of the available functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) literature in youth MDD.
A literature search was conducted using PubMED, PsycINFO and Science Direct databases, to identify fMRI studies in younger and older youth with MDD, spanning 13–18 and 19–25 years of age, respectively.
Twenty-eight studies focusing on 5 functional imaging domains were identified, namely emotion processing, cognitive control, affective cognition, reward processing and resting-state functional connectivity. Elevated activity in “extended medial network” regions including the anterior cingulate, ventromedial and orbitofrontal cortices, as well as the amygdala was most consistently implicated across these five domains. For the most part, findings in younger adolescents did not differ from those in older youth; however a general comparison of findings in both groups compared to adults indicated differences in the domains of cognitive control and affective cognition.
Youth MDD is characterized by abnormal activations in ventromedial frontal regions, the anterior cingulate and amygdala, which are broadly consistent with the implicated role of medial network regions in the pathophysiology of depression. Future longitudinal studies examining the effects of neurodevelopmental changes and pubertal maturation on brain systems implicated in youth MDD will provide a more comprehensive neurobiological model of youth depression.
•We provide a systematic review of fMRI studies in youth MDD.•Abnormal function is found in regions of the extended medial prefrontal network.•Findings in youth MDD show some important differences compared to adult MDD.•Future studies need to focus on the effects of puberty on medial network activity.•Longitudinal studies will help inform neurobiological models of youth MDD.
Major depressive disorder (MDD); Youth; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
Reactivity to smoking-related cues may be an important factor that precipitates relapse in smokers who are trying to quit. The neurobiology of smoking cue reactivity has been investigated in several fMRI studies. We combined the results of these studies using activation likelihood estimation, a meta-analytic technique for fMRI data. Results of the meta-analysis indicated that smoking cues reliably evoke larger fMRI responses than neutral cues in the extended visual system, precuneus, posterior cingulate gyrus, anterior cingulate gyrus, dorsal and medial prefrontal cortex, insula, and dorsal striatum. Subtraction meta-analyses revealed that parts of the extended visual system and dorsal prefrontal cortex are more reliably responsive to smoking cues in deprived smokers than in non-deprived smokers, and that short-duration cues presented in event-related designs produce larger responses in the extended visual system than long-duration cues presented in blocked designs. The areas that were found to be responsive to smoking cues agree with theories of the neurobiology of cue reactivity, with two exceptions. First, there was a reliable cue reactivity effect in the precuneus, which is not typically considered a brain region important to addiction. Second, we found no significant effect in the nucleus accumbens, an area that plays a critical role in addiction, but this effect may have been due to technical difficulties associated with measuring fMRI data in that region. The results of this meta-analysis suggest that the extended visual system should receive more attention in future studies of smoking cue reactivity.
smoking; cue reactivity; fMRI; meta-analysis; tobacco; addiction
A number of recent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies on intertemporal choice behavior have demonstrated that so-called emotion- and reward-related brain areas are preferentially activated by decisions involving immediately available (but smaller) rewards as compared to (larger) delayed rewards. This pattern of activation was not seen, however, when intertemporal choices were made for another (unknown) individual, which speaks to that activation having been triggered by self-relatedness. In the present fMRI study, we investigated the brain correlates of individuals who passively observed intertemporal choices being made either for themselves or for an unknown person. We found higher activation within the ventral striatum, medial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, and posterior cingulate cortex when an immediate reward was possible for the observer herself, which is in line with findings from studies in which individuals actively chose immediately available rewards. Additionally, activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and precuneus was higher for choices that included immediate options than for choices that offered only delayed options, irrespective of who was to be the beneficiary. These results indicate that (1) the activations found in active intertemporal decision making are also present when the same decisions are merely observed, thus supporting the assumption that a robust brain network is engaged in immediate gratification; and (2) with immediate rewards, certain brain areas are activated irrespective of whether the observer or another person is the beneficiary of a decision, suggesting that immediacy plays a more general role for neural activation. An explorative analysis of participants’ brain activation corresponding to chosen rewards, further indicates that activation in the aforementioned brain areas depends on the mere presence, availability, or actual reception of immediate rewards.
There is now widespread agreement that individual variation in the neural circuits representing the reinforcing properties of foods may be associated with risk for overeating and obesity. What is currently unknown is how and whether brain response to a food is related to immediate subsequent intake of that food. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test whether response to a palatable milkshake is associated with subsequent ad libitum milkshake consumption. We predicted that enhanced responses in key reward regions (insula, striatum, midbrain, medial orbitofrontal cortex) and decreased responses in regions implicated in self-control (lateral prefrontal and lateral orbitofrontal cortex) would be associated with greater intake. We found a significant positive association between response to milkshake in the periaqueductal gray region of the midbrain and ad libitum milkshake intake. Although strong bilateral insular responses were observed during consumption of the milkshake this response did not correlate with subsequent intake. The associations observed in the midbrain and orbitofrontal cortex were uninfluenced by ratings of hunger, which were near neutral. We conclude that midbrain response to a palatable food is related to eating in the absence of hunger.
Neuroimaging; Feeding; Flavor; Obesity; Midbrain; Periacqueductal gray; PAG; Decision making; Dopamine; Insula; Cannabinoid; Opiod; Pain
Individuals with Prader–Willi syndrome (PWS) exhibit severe disturbances in appetite regulation, including delayed meal termination, early return of hunger after a meal, seeking and hoarding food and eating of non‐food substances. Brain pathways involved in the control of appetite in humans are thought to include the hypothalamus, frontal cortex (including the orbitofrontal, ventromedial prefrontal, dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate areas), insula, and limbic and paralimbic areas. We hypothesised that the abnormal appetite in PWS results from aberrant reward processing of food stimuli in these neural pathways.
We compared functional MRI blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) responses while viewing pictures of food in eight adults with PWS and eight normal weight adults after ingestion of an oral glucose load.
Subjects with PWS demonstrated significantly greater BOLD activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex than controls when viewing food pictures. No significant differences were found in serum insulin, glucose or triglyceride levels between the groups at the time of the scan.
Individuals with PWS had an increased BOLD response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex compared with normal weight controls when viewing pictures of food after an oral glucose load. These findings suggest that an increased reward value for food may underlie the excessive hunger in PWS, and support the significance of the frontal cortex in modulating the response to food in humans. Our findings in the extreme appetite phenotype of PWS support the importance of the neural pathways that guide reward related behaviour in modulating the response to food in humans.
Although empathic responses to stimuli with emotional contents may occur automatically, humans are capable to intentionally empathize with other individuals. Intentional empathy for others is even possible when they do not show emotional expressions. However, little is known about the neuronal mechanisms of this intentionally controlled empathic process. To investigate the neuronal substrates underlying intentional empathy, we scanned 20 healthy Chinese subjects, using fMRI, when they tried to feel inside the emotional states of neutral or angry faces of familiar (Asian) and unfamiliar (Caucasian) models. Skin color evaluation of the same stimuli served as a control task. Compared to a baseline condition, the empathy task revealed a network of established empathy regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral inferior frontal cortex and bilateral anterior insula. The contrast of intentional empathy vs skin color evaluation, however, revealed three regions: the bilateral inferior frontal cortex, whose hemodynamic responses were independent of perceived emotion and familiarity and the right-middle temporal gyrus, whose activity was modulated by emotion but not by familiarity. These findings extend our understanding of the role of the inferior frontal cortex and the middle temporal gyrus in empathy by demonstrating their involvement in intentional empathy.
fMRI; brain imaging; empathy
Curiosity is one of the most basic biological drives in both animals and humans, and has been identified as a key motive for learning and discovery. Despite the importance of curiosity and related behaviors, the topic has been largely neglected in human neuroscience; hence little is known about the neurobiological mechanisms underlying curiosity. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate what happens in our brain during the induction and subsequent relief of perceptual curiosity. Our core findings were that (1) the induction of perceptual curiosity, through the presentation of ambiguous visual input, activated the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), brain regions sensitive to conflict and arousal; (2) the relief of perceptual curiosity, through visual disambiguation, activated regions of the striatum that have been related to reward processing; and (3) the relief of perceptual curiosity was associated with hippocampal activation and enhanced incidental memory. These findings provide the first demonstration of the neural basis of human perceptual curiosity. Our results provide neurobiological support for a classic psychological theory of curiosity, which holds that curiosity is an aversive condition of increased arousal whose termination is rewarding and facilitates memory.
curiosity; fMRI; arousal; memory; reward processing
This study investigated the effect of arousal on short-term relational memory and its underlying cortical network. Seventeen healthy participants performed a picture by location, short-term relational memory task using emotional pictures. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure the blood-oxygenation-level dependent signal relative to task. Subjects’ own ratings of the pictures were used to obtain subjective arousal ratings. Subjective arousal was found to have a dose-dependent effect on activations in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and in higher order visual areas. Serial position analyses showed that high arousal trials produced a stronger primacy and recency effect than low arousal trials. The results indicate that short-term relational memory may be facilitated by arousal and that this may be modulated by a dose–response function in arousal-driven neuronal regions.
amygdala; arousal; fMRI; hippocampus; relational memory; serial position effect; short-term memory
Neuroimaging is becoming increasingly common in obesity research as investigators try to understand the neurological underpinnings of appetite and body weight in humans. Positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies examining responses to food intake and food cues, dopamine function and brain volume in lean vs. obese individuals are now beginning to coalesce in identifying irregularities in a range of regions implicated in reward (e.g. striatum, orbitofrontal cortex, insula), emotion and memory (e.g. amygdala, hippocampus), homeostatic regulation of intake (e.g. hypothalamus), sensory and motor processing (e.g. insula, precentral gyrus), and cognitive control and attention (e.g. prefrontal cortex, cingulate). Studies of weight change in children and adolescents, and those at high genetic risk for obesity, promise to illuminate causal processes. Studies examining specific eating behaviours (e.g. external eating, emotional eating, dietary restraint) are teaching us about the distinct neural networks that drive components of appetite, and contribute to the phenotype of body weight. Finally, innovative investigations of appetite-related hormones, including studies of abnormalities (e.g. leptin deficiency) and interventions (e.g. leptin replacement, bariatric surgery), are shedding light on the interactive relationship between gut and brain. The dynamic distributed vulnerability model of eating behaviour in obesity that we propose has scientific and practical implications.
Brain imaging; cue responsivity; food reward; mesolimbic pathway
Ability to anticipate aversive events is important for avoiding dangerous or unpleasant situations. The motivation to avoid an event is influenced by the incentive salience of an event-predicting cue. In an avoidance fMRI task we used tone intensities to manipulate salience in order to study the involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex in processing of incentive salience. In the task, cues predicting either aversive or neutral avoidable tones were presented. Ventral striatum, amygdala and anterior insula activations were significantly stronger during presentation of cues for aversive than neutral tones. A psychophysiological interaction analysis showed stronger connectivity between the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex during aversive than neutral conditions. The present study shows an interaction between the ventral striatum, a structure previously linked to negative incentive salience, and the orbitofrontal cortex supporting a role for this region in processing salience. In addition, this study replicates previous findings suggesting that the task is robust.
Experiencing emotions engages high-order orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal areas, and expressing emotions involves low-level autonomic structures and peripheral organs. How is information from the cortex transmitted to the periphery? We used two parallel approaches to map simultaneously multiple pathways to determine if hypothalamic autonomic centres are a key link for orbitofrontal areas and medial prefrontal areas, which have been associated with emotional processes, as well as low-level spinal and brainstem autonomic structures. The latter innervate peripheral autonomic organs, whose activity is markedly increased during emotional arousal.
We first determined if pathways linking the orbitofrontal cortex with the hypothalamus overlapped with projection neurons directed to the intermediolateral column of the spinal cord, with the aid of neural tracers injected in these disparate structures. We found that axons from orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices converged in the hypothalamus with neurons projecting to brainstem and spinal autonomic centers, linking the highest with the lowest levels of the neuraxis. Using a parallel approach, we injected bidirectional tracers in the lateral hypothalamic area, an autonomic center, to label simultaneously cortical pathways leading to the hypothalamus, as well as hypothalamic axons projecting to low-level brainstem and spinal autonomic centers. We found densely distributed projection neurons in medial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices leading to the hypothalamus, as well as hypothalamic axonal terminations in several brainstem structures and the intermediolateral column of the spinal cord, which innervate peripheral autonomic organs. We then provided direct evidence that axons from medial prefrontal cortex synapse with hypothalamic neurons, terminating as large boutons, comparable in size to the highly efficient thalamocortical system. The interlinked orbitofrontal, medial prefrontal areas and hypothalamic autonomic centers were also connected with the amygdala.
Descending pathways from orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices, which are also linked with the amygdala, provide the means for speedy influence of the prefrontal cortex on the autonomic system, in processes underlying appreciation and expression of emotions.