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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.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  Film Excerpts Shown to Specifically Elicit Various Affects Lead to Overlapping Activation Foci in a Large Set of Symmetrical Brain Regions in Males 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22343.
While the limbic system theory continues to be part of common scientific parlance, its validity has been questioned on multiple grounds. Nonetheless, the issue of whether or not there exists a set of brain areas preferentially dedicated to emotional processing remains central within affective neuroscience. Recently, a widespread neural reference space for emotion which includes limbic as well as other regions was characterized in a large meta-analysis. As methodologically heterogeneous studies go into such meta-analyses, showing in an individual study in which all parameters are kept constant, the involvement of overlapping areas for various emotion conditions in keeping with the neural reference space for emotion, would serve as valuable confirmatory evidence. Here, using fMRI, 20 young adult men were scanned while viewing validated neutral and effective emotion-eliciting short film excerpts shown to quickly and specifically elicit disgust, amusement, or sexual arousal. Each emotion-specific run included, in random order, multiple neutral and emotion condition blocks. A stringent conjunction analysis revealed a large overlap across emotion conditions that fit remarkably well with the neural reference space for emotion. This overlap included symmetrical bilateral activation of the medial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, the temporo-occipital junction, the basal ganglia, the brainstem, the amygdala, the hippocampus, the thalamus, the subthalamic nucleus, the posterior hypothalamus, the cerebellum, as well as the frontal operculum extending towards the anterior insula. This study clearly confirms for the visual modality, that processing emotional stimuli leads to widespread increases in activation that cluster within relatively confined areas, regardless of valence.
PMCID: PMC3144904  PMID: 21818311
11.  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
12.  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
13.  Play it again, Sam: brain correlates of emotional music recognition 
Background: Music can elicit strong emotions and can be remembered in connection with these emotions even decades later. Yet, the brain correlates of episodic memory for highly emotional music compared with less emotional music have not been examined. We therefore used fMRI to investigate brain structures activated by emotional processing of short excerpts of film music successfully retrieved from episodic long-term memory.
Methods: Eighteen non-musicians volunteers were exposed to 60 structurally similar pieces of film music of 10 s length with high arousal ratings and either less positive or very positive valence ratings. Two similar sets of 30 pieces were created. Each of these was presented to half of the participants during the encoding session outside of the scanner, while all stimuli were used during the second recognition session inside the MRI-scanner. During fMRI each stimulation period (10 s) was followed by a 20 s resting period during which participants pressed either the “old” or the “new” button to indicate whether they had heard the piece before.
Results: Musical stimuli vs. silence activated the bilateral superior temporal gyrus, right insula, right middle frontal gyrus, bilateral medial frontal gyrus and the left anterior cerebellum. Old pieces led to activation in the left medial dorsal thalamus and left midbrain compared to new pieces. For recognized vs. not recognized old pieces a focused activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the left cerebellum was found. Positive pieces activated the left medial frontal gyrus, the left precuneus, the right superior frontal gyrus, the left posterior cingulate, the bilateral middle temporal gyrus, and the left thalamus compared to less positive pieces.
Conclusion: Specific brain networks related to memory retrieval and emotional processing of symphonic film music were identified. The results imply that the valence of a music piece is important for memory performance and is recognized very fast.
PMCID: PMC3927073  PMID: 24634661
musical memory; episodic memory; emotions; brain-processing
14.  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
15.  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
16.  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
17.  Neural correlates of the behavioral-autonomic interaction response to potentially threatening stimuli 
Subjective assessment of emotional valence is typically associated with both brain activity and autonomic arousal. Accurately assessing emotional salience is particularly important when perceiving threat. We sought to characterize the neural correlates of the interaction between behavioral and autonomic responses to potentially threatening visual and auditory stimuli. Twenty-five healthy male subjects underwent fMRI scanning whilst skin conductance responses (SCR) were recorded. One hundred and eighty pictures, sentences, and sounds were assessed as “harmless” or “threatening.” Individuals' stimulus-locked, phasic SCRs and trial-by-trial behavioral assessments were entered as regressors into a flexible factorial design to establish their separate autonomic and behavioral neural correlates, and convolved to examine psycho-autonomic interaction (PAI) effects. Across all stimuli, “threatening,” compared with “harmless” behavioral assessments were associated with mainly frontal and precuneus activation with specific within-modality activations including bilateral parahippocampal gyri (pictures), bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and frontal pole (sentences), and right Heschl's gyrus and bilateral temporal gyri (sounds). Across stimulus modalities SCRs were associated with activation of parieto-occipito-thalamic regions, an activation pattern which was largely replicated within-modality. In contrast, PAI analyses revealed modality-specific activations including right fusiform/parahippocampal gyrus (pictures), right insula (sentences), and mid-cingulate gyrus (sounds). Phasic SCR activity was positively correlated with an individual's propensity to assess stimuli as “threatening.” SCRs may modulate cognitive assessments on a “harmless–threatening” dimension, thereby modulating affective tone and hence behavior.
PMCID: PMC3546317  PMID: 23335893
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); skin conductance response (SCR); emotional salience; autonomic arousal; threat; affective tone
18.  Atypical Neural Responses During Face Processing in Female Adolescents With Conduct Disorder 
Conduct disorder (CD) in females is associated with negative adult outcomes including mental health problems and personality disorders. Although recent neuroimaging studies have reported changes in neural activity during facial emotion processing in males with CD or callous-unemotional (CU) traits, there have been no neuroimaging studies specifically assessing females with CD. We addressed this gap by investigating whether female adolescents with CD show atypical neural activation when processing emotional or neutral faces.
We acquired functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from 20 female adolescents with CD and 20 female control participants while they viewed angry, sad, and neutral faces.
An omnibus group (CD, control) by facial emotion (angry, sad, neutral) analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed main effects of facial emotion in superior temporal cortex, fusiform gyrus, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and insula, and main effects of group in medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and right anterior insula. Female participants with CD showed reduced medial OFC and increased anterior insula responses relative to healthy controls. There were no significant group × facial emotion interactions. Lifetime CD symptoms were negatively correlated with amygdala, superior temporal cortex, fusiform gyrus, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity for the contrast “all-faces versus fixation.” CU traits were negatively correlated with fusiform gyrus activity for the contrast sad versus neutral faces.
Females with CD showed atypical neural activation during the processing of all facial expressions, irrespective of valence. Our results demonstrate that severity of CD symptoms and CU traits is important in explaining abnormal patterns of neural activity.
PMCID: PMC4032577  PMID: 24839886
CD; CU traits; females; face processing; fMRI
19.  The Neurophysiological Bases of Emotion: An fMRI Study of the Affective Circumplex Using Emotion-Denoting Words 
Human brain mapping  2009;30(3):883-895.
We aimed to study the neural processing of emotion-denoting words based on a circumplex model of affect, which posits that all emotions can be described as a linear combination of two neurophysiological dimensions, valence and arousal. Based on the circumplex model, we predicted a linear relationship between neural activity and incremental changes in these two affective dimensions.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we assessed in 10 subjects the correlations of BOLD (blood oxygen level dependent) signal with ratings of valence and arousal during the presentation of emotion-denoting words.
Valence ratings correlated positively with neural activity in the left insular cortex and inversely with neural activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal and precuneus cortices. The absolute value of valence ratings (reflecting the positive and negative extremes of valence) correlated positively with neural activity in the left dorsolateral and medial pre-frontal cortex (PFC), dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and right dorsal PFC, and inversely with neural activity in the left medial temporal cortex and right amygdala. Arousal ratings and neural activity correlated positively in the left parahippocampus and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and inversely in the left dorsolateral PFC and dorsal cerebellum.
We found evidence for two neural networks subserving the affective dimensions of valence and arousal. These findings clarify inconsistencies from prior imaging studies of affect by suggesting that two underlying neurophysiological systems, valence and arousal, may subserve the processing of affective stimuli, consistent with the circumplex model of affect.
PMCID: PMC2644729  PMID: 18344175
affect; valence; arousal; fMRI; circumplex
20.  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
21.  Subchronic SSRI administration attenuates insula response during affective anticipation 
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula are important neural substrates for the integration of cognitive, emotional, and physiological information, as well as the coordination of responses to anticipated stimuli. Increased neural activation within these structures has been observed in individuals with anxiety and depressive disorders. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are among the most effective and frequently prescribed anxiolytic agents, yet it is not known whether ACC or insula underlie the effects of these drugs. We examined whether subchronic administration of an SSRI to healthy volunteers attenuate activation in ACC or insula during anticipation, an important emotional process underlying anxiety. Support for this hypothesis would help to understand where and by what process SSRIs may exert beneficial effects as anxiolytics and would provide further mechanistic evidence for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as a biomarker for the development of anxiolytics.
Participants and Design
15 volunteers participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized cross-over study. Participants completed a pleasant and aversive picture cued anticipation task during fMRI after taking either escitalopram (10 mg) or placebo for 21 days.
Main Outcome Measure
Percent BOLD signal change during SSRI administration.
Escitalopram significantly decreased activation in bilateral posterior and middle insula during the anticipation condition irrespective of stimulus valence and in medial prefrontal and ACC during anticipation of aversive versus pleasant images.
Reduced insular and ACC activation during anticipation may be integral to the therapeutic efficacy of SSRIs and provide a mechanistic approach for the use of pharmacofMRI in the identification of novel pharmacotherapeutic agents.
PMCID: PMC2846821  PMID: 19545475
SSRI; escitalopram; insula; fMRI; anticipation
22.  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
23.  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
24.  Emotional and autonomic consequences of spinal cord injury explored using functional brain imaging 
Brain : a journal of neurology  2005;129(Pt 3):718-728.
In health, emotions are integrated with autonomic bodily responses. Emotional stimuli elicit changes in somatic (including autonomic) bodily states, which feedback to influence the expression of emotional feelings. In patients with spinal cord injury (SCI), this integration of emotion and bodily arousal is partially disrupted, impairing both efferent generation of sympathetic responses and afferent sensory feedback of visceral state via the spinal cord. A number of theoretical accounts of emotion predict emotional deficits in SCI patients, particularly at the level of emotional feelings, yet evidence for such a deficit is equivocal. We used functional MRI (fMRI) and a basic emotional learning paradigm to investigate the expression of emotion-related brain activity consequent upon SC I. We scanned seven SCI patients and seven healthy controls during an aversive fear conditioning task. Subjects viewed randomized presentations of four angry faces. One of the faces (CS + arm) was associated with delivery of electrical shock to the upper arm on 50% of trials. This shock was painful to all subjects. A face of the same gender acted as a ‘safe’ control stimulus (CS − arm). In both control subjects and SCI patients, painful cutaneous stimulation of the arm evoked enhanced activity within components of a central pain matrix, including dorsal anterior cingulate, right insula and medial temporal lobe. However, SCI patients differed from controls in conditioning-related brain activity. SCI patients showed a relative enhancement of activity within dorsal anterior cingulate, periaqueductal grey matter (PAG) and superior temporal gyrus. Conversely, SCI patients showed relative attenuation of activity in subgenual cingulate, ventromedial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices to threat of painful arm stimulation (CS + arm > CS − arm). Our findings provide evidence for differences in emotion-related brain activity in SCI patients. We suggest that the observed functional abnormalities including enhanced anterior cingulate and PAG reflect central sensitization of the pain matrix, while decreased subgenual cingulate activity may represent a substrate underlying affective vulnerability in SCI patients consequent upon perturbation of autonomic control and afferent visceral representation. Together these observations may account for motivational and affective sequelae of SCI in some individuals.
PMCID: PMC2633768  PMID: 16330503
autonomic arousal; emotion; functional magnetic resonance; spinal cord injury
25.  A Perfusion MRI Study of Emotional Valence and Arousal in Parkinson's Disease 
Parkinson's Disease  2011;2011:742907.
Background. Brain regions subserving emotion have mostly been studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during emotion provocation procedures in healthy participants. Objective. To identify neuroanatomical regions associated with spontaneous changes in emotional state over time. Methods. Self-rated emotional valence and arousal scores, and regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) measured by perfusion MRI, were measured 4 or 8 times spanning at least 2 weeks in each of 21 subjects with Parkinson's disease (PD). A random-effects SPM analysis, corrected for multiple comparisons, identified significant clusters of contiguous voxels in which rCBF varied with valence or arousal. Results. Emotional valence correlated positively with rCBF in several brain regions, including medial globus pallidus, orbital prefrontal cortex (PFC), and white matter near putamen, thalamus, insula, and medial PFC. Valence correlated negatively with rCBF in striatum, subgenual cingulate cortex, ventrolateral PFC, and precuneus—posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Arousal correlated positively with rCBF in clusters including claustrum-thalamus-ventral striatum and inferior parietal lobule and correlated negatively in clusters including posterior insula—mediodorsal thalamus and midbrain. Conclusion. This study demonstrates that the temporal stability of perfusion MRI allows within-subject investigations of spontaneous fluctuations in mental state, such as mood, over relatively long-time intervals.
PMCID: PMC3182403  PMID: 21969917

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