Among younger adults, the ability to willfully regulate negative affect, enabling effective responses to stressful experiences, engages regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala. Because regions of PFC and the amygdala are known to influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, here we test whether PFC and amygdala responses during emotion regulation predict the diurnal pattern of salivary cortisol secretion. We also test whether PFC and amygdala regions are engaged during emotion regulation in older (62- to 64-year-old) rather than younger individuals. We measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging as participants regulated (increased or decreased) their affective responses or attended to negative picture stimuli. We also collected saliva samples for 1 week at home for cortisol assay. Consistent with previous work in younger samples, increasing negative affect resulted in ventral lateral, dorsolateral, and dorsomedial regions of PFC and amygdala activation. In contrast to previous work, decreasing negative affect did not produce the predicted robust pattern of higher PFC and lower amygdala activation. Individuals demonstrating the predicted effect (decrease < attend in the amygdala), however, exhibited higher signal in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) for the same contrast. Furthermore, participants displaying higher VMPFC and lower amygdala signal when decreasing compared with the attention control condition evidenced steeper, more normative declines in cortisol over the course of the day. Individual differences yielded the predicted link between brain function while reducing negative affect in the laboratory and diurnal regulation of endocrine activity in the home environment.
BACKGROUND: Autism is a syndrome of unknown cause, marked by abnormal development of social behavior. Attempts to link pathological features of the amygdala, which plays a key role in emotional processing, to autism have shown little consensus. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate amygdala volume in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and its relationship to laboratory measures of social behavior to examine whether variations in amygdala structure relate to symptom severity. DESIGN: We conducted 2 cross-sectional studies of amygdala volume, measured blind to diagnosis on high-resolution, anatomical magnetic resonance images. Participants were 54 males aged 8 to 25 years, including 23 with autism and 5 with Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, recruited and evaluated at an academic center for developmental disabilities and 26 age- and sex-matched community volunteers. The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised was used to confirm diagnoses and to validate relationships with laboratory measures of social function. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Amygdala volume, judgment of facial expressions, and eye tracking. RESULTS: In study 1, individuals with autism who had small amygdalae were slowest to distinguish emotional from neutral expressions (P=.02) and showed least fixation of eye regions (P=.04). These same individuals were most socially impaired in early childhood, as reported on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (P<.04). Study 2 showed smaller amygdalae in individuals with autism than in control subjects (P=.03) and group differences in the relation between amygdala volume and age. Study 2 also replicated findings of more gaze avoidance and childhood impairment in participants with autism with the smallest amygdalae. Across the combined sample, severity of social deficits interacted with age to predict different patterns of amygdala development in autism (P=.047). CONCLUSIONS: These findings best support a model of amygdala hyperactivity that could explain most volumetric findings in autism. Further psychophysiological and histopathological studies are indicated to confirm these findings.
OBJECTIVE: The anticipation of adverse outcomes, or worry, is a cardinal symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. Prior work with healthy subjects has shown that anticipating aversive events recruits a network of brain regions, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. This study tested whether patients with generalized anxiety disorder have alterations in anticipatory amygdala function and whether anticipatory activity in the anterior cingulate cortex predicts treatment response. METHOD: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was employed with 14 generalized anxiety disorder patients and 12 healthy comparison subjects matched for age, sex, and education. The event-related fMRI paradigm was composed of one warning cue that preceded aversive pictures and a second cue that preceded neutral pictures. Following the fMRI session, patients received 8 weeks of treatment with extended-release venlafaxine. RESULTS: Patients with generalized anxiety disorder showed greater anticipatory activity than healthy comparison subjects in the bilateral dorsal amygdala preceding both aversive and neutral pictures. Building on prior reports of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity predicting treatment response, anticipatory activity in that area was associated with clinical outcome 8 weeks later following treatment with venlafaxine. Higher levels of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity in anticipation of both aversive and neutral pictures were associated with greater reductions in anxiety and worry symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: These findings of heightened and indiscriminate amygdala responses to anticipatory signals in generalized anxiety disorder and of anterior cingulate cortex associations with treatment response provide neurobiological support for the role of anticipatory processes in the pathophysiology of generalized anxiety disorder.
Sensitivity, specificity, and reproducibility are vital to interpret neuroscientific results from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments. Here we examine the scan-rescan reliability of the percent signal change (PSC) and parameters estimated using Dynamic Causal Modeling (DCM) in scans taken in the same scan session, less than 5 min apart. We find fair to good reliability of PSC in regions that are involved with the task, and fair to excellent reliability with DCM. Also, the DCM analysis uncovers group differences that were not present in the analysis of PSC, which implies that DCM may be more sensitive to the nuances of signal changes in fMRI data.
Event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (efMRI) has emerged as a powerful technique for detecting brains’ responses to presented stimuli. A primary goal in efMRI data analysis is to estimate the Hemodynamic Response Function (HRF) and to locate activated regions in human brains when specific tasks are performed. This paper develops new methodologies that are important improvements not only to parametric but also to nonparametric estimation and hypothesis testing of the HRF. First, an effective and computationally fast scheme for estimating the error covariance matrix for efMRI is proposed. Second, methodologies for estimation and hypothesis testing of the HRF are developed. Simulations support the effectiveness of our proposed methods. When applied to an efMRI dataset from an emotional control study, our method reveals more meaningful findings than the popular methods offered by AFNI and FSL.
Although depressed mood is a normal occurrence in response to adversity in all individuals, what distinguishes those who are vulnerable to major depressive disorder (MDD) is their inability to effectively regulate negative mood when it arises. Investigating the neural underpinnings of adaptive emotion regulation and the extent to which such processes are compromised in MDD may be helpful in understanding the pathophysiology of depression. We report results from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study demonstrating left-lateralized activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when downregulating negative affect in nondepressed individuals, whereas depressed individuals showed bilateral PFC activation. Furthermore, during an effortful affective reappraisal task, nondepressed individuals showed an inverse relationship between activation in left ventrolateral PFC and the amygdala that is mediated by the ventromedial PFC (VMPFC). No such relationship was found for depressed individuals, who instead show a positive association between VMPFC and amygdala. Pupil dilation data suggest that those depressed patients who expend more effort to reappraise negative stimuli are characterized by accentuated activation in the amygdala, insula, and thalamus, whereas nondepressed individuals exhibit the opposite pattern. These findings indicate that a key feature underlying the pathophysiology of major depression is the counterproductive engagement of right prefrontal cortex and the lack of engagement of left lateral-ventromedial prefrontal circuitry important for the downregulation of amygdala responses to negative stimuli.
BACKGROUND: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) holds promise as a noninvasive means of identifying neural responses that can be used to predict treatment response before beginning a drug trial. Imaging paradigms employing facial expressions as presented stimuli have been shown to activate the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Here, we sought to determine whether pretreatment amygdala and rostral ACC (rACC) reactivity to facial expressions could predict treatment outcomes in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). METHODS: Fifteen subjects (12 female subjects) with GAD participated in an open-label venlafaxine treatment trial. Functional magnetic resonance imaging responses to facial expressions of emotion collected before subjects began treatment were compared with changes in anxiety following 8 weeks of venlafaxine administration. In addition, the magnitude of fMRI responses of subjects with GAD were compared with that of 15 control subjects (12 female subjects) who did not have GAD and did not receive venlafaxine treatment. RESULTS: The magnitude of treatment response was predicted by greater pretreatment reactivity to fearful faces in rACC and lesser reactivity in the amygdala. These individual differences in pretreatment rACC and amygdala reactivity within the GAD group were observed despite the fact that 1) the overall magnitude of pretreatment rACC and amygdala reactivity did not differ between subjects with GAD and control subjects and 2) there was no main effect of treatment on rACC-amygdala reactivity in the GAD group. CONCLUSIONS: These findings show that this pattern of rACC-amygdala responsivity could prove useful as a predictor of venlafaxine treatment response in patients with GAD.
Diminished gaze fixation is one of the core features of autism and has been proposed to be associated with abnormalities in the neural circuitry of affect. We tested this hypothesis in two separate studies using eye tracking while measuring functional brain activity during facial discrimination tasks in individuals with autism and in typically developing individuals. Activation in the fusiform gyrus and amygdala was strongly and positively correlated with the time spent fixating the eyes in the autistic group in both studies, suggesting that diminished gaze fixation may account for the fusiform hypoactivation to faces commonly reported in autism. In addition, variation in eye fixation within autistic individuals was strongly and positively associated with amygdala activation across both studies, suggesting a heightened emotional response associated with gaze fixation in autism.
Recent studies have identified a distributed network of brain regions thought to support cognitive reappraisal processes underlying emotion regulation in response to affective images, including parieto-temporal regions and lateral/medial regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC). A number of these commonly activated regions are also known to underlie visuospatial attention and oculomotor control, which raises the possibility that people use attentional redeployment rather than, or in addition to, reappraisal as a strategy to regulate emotion. We predicted that a significant portion of the observed variance in brain activation during emotion regulation tasks would be associated with differences in how participants visually scan the images while regulating their emotions. We recorded brain activation using fMRI and quantified patterns of gaze fixation while participants increased or decreased their affective response to a set of affective images. fMRI results replicated previous findings on emotion regulation with regulation differences reflected in regions of PFC and the amygdala. In addition, our gaze fixation data revealed that when regulating, individuals changed their gaze patterns relative to a control condition. Furthermore, this variation in gaze fixation accounted for substantial amounts of variance in brain activation. These data point to the importance of controlling for gaze fixation in studies of emotion regulation that use visual stimuli.
Context: Emotion regulation is critically disrupted in depression and use of paradigms tapping these processes may uncover essential changes in neurobiology during treatment. In addition, as neuroimaging outcome studies of depression commonly utilize solely baseline and endpoint data – which is more prone to week-to week noise in symptomatology – we sought to use all data points over the course of a six month trial. Objective: To examine changes in neurobiology resulting from successful treatment. Design: Double-blind trial examining changes in the neural circuits involved in emotion regulation resulting from one of two antidepressant treatments over a six month trial. Participants were scanned pretreatment, at 2 months and 6 months posttreatment. Setting: University functional magnetic resonance imaging facility. Participants: 21 patients with Major Depressive Disorder and without other Axis I or Axis II diagnoses and 14 healthy controls. Interventions: Venlafaxine XR (doses up to 300mg) or Fluoxetine (doses up to 80mg). Main Outcome Measure: Neural activity, as measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging during performance of an emotion regulation paradigm as well as regular assessments of symptom severity by the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. To utilize all data points, slope trajectories were calculated for rate of change in depression severity as well as rate of change of neural engagement. Results: Those depressed individuals showing the steepest decrease in depression severity over the six months were those individuals showing the most rapid increases in BA10 and right DLPFC activity when regulating negative affect over the same time frame. This relationship was more robust than when using solely the baseline and endpoint data. Conclusions: Changes in PFC engagement when regulating negative affect correlate with changes in depression severity over six months. These results are buttressed by calculating these statistics which are more reliable and robust to week-to-week variation than difference scores.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined whether individual differences in amygdala activation in response to negative relative to neutral information are related to differences in the speed with which such information is evaluated, the extent to which such differences are associated with medial prefrontal cortex function, and their relationship with measures of trait anxiety and psychological well-being (PWB). Results indicated that faster judgments of negative relative to neutral information were associated with increased left and right amygdala activation. In the prefrontal cortex, faster judgment time was associated with relative decreased activation in a cluster in the ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, BA 24). Furthermore, people who were slower to evaluate negative versus neutral information reported higher PWB. Importantly, higher PWB was strongly associated with increased activation in the ventral ACC for negative relative to neutral information. Individual differences in trait anxiety did not predict variation in judgment time or in amygdala or ventral ACC activity. These findings suggest that people high in PWB effectively recruit the ventral ACC when confronted with potentially aversive stimuli, manifest reduced activity in subcortical regions such as the amygdala, and appraise such information as less salient as reflected in slower evaluative speed.
The degree to which perceived controllability alters the way a stressor is experienced varies greatly among individuals. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural activation associated with individual differences in the impact of perceived controllability on self-reported pain perception. Subjects with greater activation in response to uncontrollable (UC) rather than controllable (C) pain in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC), periaqueductal gray (PAG), and posterior insula/SII reported higher levels of pain during the UC versus C conditions. Conversely, subjects with greater activation in the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) in anticipation of pain in the UC versus C conditions reported less pain in response to UC versus C pain. Activation in the VLPFC was significantly correlated with the acceptance and denial subscales of the COPE inventory [Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267-283, 1989], supporting the interpretation that this anticipatory activation was associated with an attempt to cope with the emotional impact of uncontrollable pain. A regression model containing the two prefrontal clusters (VLPFC and pACC) predicted 64% of the variance in pain rating difference, with activation in the two additional regions (PAG and insula/SII) predicting almost no additional variance. In addition to supporting the conclusion that the impact of perceived controllability on pain perception varies highly between individuals, these findings suggest that these effects are primarily top-down, driven by processes in regions of the prefrontal cortex previously associated with cognitive modulation of pain and emotion regulation.
The present study investigated the premise that individual differences in autonomic physiology could be used to specify the nature and consequences of information processing taking place in medial prefrontal regions during cognitive reappraisal of unpleasant pictures. Neural (blood oxygenation level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging) and autonomic (electrodermal [EDA], pupil diameter, cardiac acceleration) signals were recorded simultaneously as twenty-six older people (ages 64-66 years) used reappraisal to increase, maintain, or decrease their responses to unpleasant pictures. EDA was higher when increasing and lower when decreasing compared to maintaining. This suggested modulation of emotional arousal by reappraisal. By contrast, pupil diameter and cardiac acceleration were higher when increasing and decreasing compared to maintaining. This suggested modulation of cognitive demand. Importantly, reappraisal-related activation (increase, decrease>maintain) in two medial prefrontal regions (dorsal medial frontal gyrus and dorsal cingulate gyrus) was correlated with greater cardiac acceleration (increase, decrease>maintain) and monotonic changes in EDA (increase>maintain>decrease). These data indicate that these two medial prefrontal regions are involved in the allocation of cognitive resources to regulate unpleasant emotion, and that they modulate emotional arousal in accordance with the regulatory goal. The emotional arousal effects were mediated by the right amygdala. Reappraisal-related activation in a third medial prefrontal region (subgenual anterior cingulate cortex) was not associated with similar patterns of change in any of the autonomic measures, thus highlighting regional specificity in the degree to which cognitive demand is reflected in medial prefrontal activation during reappraisal.
A current limitation for imaging of brain function is the potential confound of anatomical differences or registration error, which may manifest via apparent functional "activation" for between-subject analyses. With respect to functional activations, underlying tissue mismatches can be regarded as a nuisance variable. We propose adding the probability of gray matter at a given voxel as a covariate (nuisance variable) in the analysis of voxelwise multisubject functional data using standard statistical techniques. A method is presented to assess the extent to which a functional activation can reliably be explained by underlying anatomical differences, and simultaneously, to assess the component of the functional activation which cannot be attributed to anatomical difference and thus is likely due to functional difference alone. Extension of the method to other intermodal imaging applications is discussed. Two exemplary data sets, one PET and one fMRI, are used to demonstrate the implementation and utility of this method, which apportions the relative contributions of anatomy and function for an apparent functional activation. The examples show two distinct types of results. First, a so-called functional activation may actually be caused by a systematic anatomical difference which, when modeled, diminishes the functional effect. In the second result type, including the anatomical differences in the model can account for a large component of otherwise unmodeled variance, yielding an increase in the functional effect cluster size and/or magnitude. In either case, ignoring the readily available structural information can lead to misinterpretation of functional results.
The impact of using motion estimates as covariates of no interest was examined in general linear modeling (GLM) of both block design and rapid event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data. The purpose of motion correction is to identify and eliminate artifacts caused by task-correlated motion while maximizing sensitivity to true activations. To optimize this process, a combination of motion correction approaches was applied to data from 33 subjects performing both a block-design and an event-related fMRI experiment, including analysis: (1) without motion correction; (2) with motion correction alone; (3) with motion-corrected data and motion covariates included in the GLM; and (4) with non-motion-corrected data and motion covariates included in the GLM. Inclusion of covariates was found to be generally useful for increasing the sensitivity of GLM results in the analysis of event-related data. When motion parameters were included in the GLM for event-related data, it made little difference if motion correction was actually applied to the data. For the block design, inclusion of motion covariates had a deleterious impact on GLM sensitivity when even moderate correlation existed between motion and the experimental design. Based on these results, we present a general strategy for block designs, event-related designs, and hybrid designs to identify and eliminate probable motion artifacts while maximizing sensitivity to true activations.
Asthma, like many inflammatory disorders, is affected by psychological stress, suggesting that reciprocal modulation may occur between peripheral factors regulating inflammation and central neural circuitry underlying emotion and stress reactivity. Despite suggestions that emotional factors may modulate processes of inflammation in asthma and, conversely, that peripheral inflammatory signals influence the brain, the neural circuitry involved remains elusive. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula to asthma-relevant emotional, compared with valence-neutral stimuli, is associated with markers of inflammation and airway obstruction in asthmatic subjects exposed to antigen. This activation accounts for > or =40% of the variance in the peripheral markers and suggests a neural basis for emotion-induced modulation of airway disease in asthma. The anterior cingulate cortex and insula have been implicated in the affective evaluation of sensory stimulation, regulation of homeostatic responses, and visceral perception. In individuals with asthma and other stress-related conditions, these brain regions may be hyperresponsive to disease-specific emotional and afferent physiological signals, which may contribute to the dysregulation of peripheral processes, such as inflammation.
Background The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the attentional blink (AB) - a deficit in identifying the second of two temporally-close targets (T1 and T2) embedded in a rapid stream of distracters. Theories of the AB generally agree that it results from competition between stimuli for conscious representation. However, they disagree in the specific mechanisms, in particular about how attentional processing of T1 determines the AB to T2. Methodology/Principal Findings The present study used the high spatial resolution of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural mechanisms underlying the AB. Our research approach was to design T1 and T2 stimuli that activate distinguishable brain areas involved in visual categorization and representation. ROI and functional connectivity analyses were then used to examine how attentional processing of T1, as indexed by activity in the T1 representation area, affected T2 processing. Our main finding was that attentional processing of T1 at the level of the visual cortex predicted T2 detection rates Those individuals who activated the T1 encoding area more strongly in blink versus no-blink trials generally detected T2 on a lower percentage of trials. The coupling of activity between T1 and T2 representation areas did not vary as a function of conscious T2 perception. Conclusions/Significance These data are consistent with the notion that the AB is related to attentional demands of T1 for selection, and indicate that these demands are reflected at the level of visual cortex. They also highlight the importance of individual differences in attentional settings in explaining AB task performance.
The response to painful stimulation depends not only on peripheral nociceptive input but also on the cognitive and affective context in which pain occurs. One contextual variable that affects the neural and behavioral response to nociceptive stimulation is the degree to which pain is perceived to be controllable. Previous studies indicate that perceived controllability affects pain tolerance, learning and motivation, and the ability to cope with intractable pain, suggesting that it has profound effects on neural pain processing. To date, however, no neuroimaging studies have assessed these effects. We manipulated the subjects' belief that they had control over a nociceptive stimulus, while the stimulus itself was held constant. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that pain that was perceived to be controllable resulted in attenuated activation in the three neural areas most consistently linked with pain processing: the anterior cingulate, insular, and secondary somatosensory cortices. This suggests that activation at these sites is modulated by cognitive variables, such as perceived controllability, and that pain imaging studies may therefore overestimate the degree to which these responses are stimulus driven and generalizable across cognitive contexts.
Individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS) commonly display characteristics of social anxiety, including gaze aversion, increased time to initiate social interaction, and difficulty forming meaningful peer relationships. While neural correlates of face processing, an important component of social interaction, are altered in FXS, studies have not examined whether social anxiety in this population is related to higher cognitive processes, such as memory. This study aimed to determine whether the neural circuitry involved in face encoding was disrupted in individuals with FXS, and whether brain activity during face encoding was related to levels of social anxiety. A group of 11 individuals with FXS (5 M) and 11 age- and gender-matched control participants underwent fMRI scanning while performing a face encoding task with online eye-tracking. Results indicate that compared to the control group, individuals with FXS exhibited decreased activation of prefrontal regions associated with complex social cognition, including the medial and superior frontal cortex, during successful face encoding. Further, the FXS and control groups showed significantly different relationships between measures of social anxiety (including gaze-fixation) and brain activity during face encoding. These data indicate that social anxiety in FXS may be related to the inability to successfully recruit higher level social cognition regions during the initial phases of memory formation.
Anhedonia, the loss of pleasure or interest in previously rewarding stimuli, is a core feature of major depression. While theorists have argued that anhedonia reflects a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, evidence is mixed as to whether anhedonia is caused by a reduction in hedonic capacity. An alternative explanation is that anhedonia is due to the inability to sustain positive affect across time. Using positive images, we used an emotion regulation task to test whether individuals with depression are unable to sustain activation in neural circuits underlying positive affect and reward. While up-regulating positive affect, depressed individuals failed to sustain nucleus accumbens activity over time compared with controls. This decreased capacity was related to individual differences in self-reported positive affect. Connectivity analyses further implicated the fronto-striatal network in anhedonia. These findings support the hypothesis that anhedonia in depressed patients reflects the inability to sustain engagement of structures involved in positive affect and reward.
BACKGROUND: Anhedonia, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, is a chief symptom of major depressive disorder and is related to reduced frontostriatal connectivity when attempting to upregulate positive emotion. The present study examined another facet of positive emotion regulation associated with anhedonia-namely, the downregulation of positive affect-and its relation to prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity. METHODS: Neuroimaging data were collected from 27 individuals meeting criteria for major depressive disorder as they attempted to suppress positive emotion during a positive emotion regulation task. Their PFC activation pattern was compared with the PFC activation pattern exhibited by 19 healthy control subjects during the same task. Anhedonia scores were collected at three time points: at baseline (time 1), 8 weeks after time 1 (i.e., time 2), and 6 months after time 1 (i.e., time 3). Prefrontal cortex activity at time 1 was used to predict change in anhedonia over time. Analyses were conducted utilizing hierarchical linear modeling software. RESULTS: Depressed individuals who could not inhibit positive emotion-evinced by reduced right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activity during attempts to dampen their experience of positive emotion in response to positive visual stimuli-exhibited a steeper anhedonia reduction slope between baseline and 8 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication (p < .05). Control subjects showed a similar trend between baseline and time 3. CONCLUSIONS: To reduce anhedonia, it may be necessary to teach individuals how to counteract the functioning of an overactive pleasure-dampening prefrontal inhibitory system.
Recent brain imaging studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have implicated insula and anterior cingulate cortices in the empathic response to another's pain. However, virtually nothing is known about the impact of the voluntary generation of compassion on this network. To investigate these questions we assessed brain activity using fMRI while novice and expert meditation practitioners generated a loving-kindness-compassion meditation state. To probe affective reactivity, we presented emotional and neutral sounds during the meditation and comparison periods. Our main hypothesis was that the concern for others cultivated during this form of meditation enhances affective processing, in particular in response to sounds of distress, and that this response to emotional sounds is modulated by the degree of meditation training. The presentation of the emotional sounds was associated with increased pupil diameter and activation of limbic regions (insula and cingulate cortices) during meditation (versus rest). During meditation, activation in insula was greater during presentation of negative sounds than positive or neutral sounds in expert than it was in novice meditators. The strength of activation in insula was also associated with self-reported intensity of the meditation for both groups. These results support the role of the limbic circuitry in emotion sharing. The comparison between meditation vs. rest states between experts and novices also showed increased activation in amygdala, right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in response to all sounds, suggesting, greater detection of the emotional sounds, and enhanced mentation in response to emotional human vocalizations for experts than novices during meditation. Together these data indicate that the mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion alters the activation of circuitries previously linked to empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli.
OBJECTIVE Deficits in positive affect and their neural bases have been associated with major depression. However, whether reductions in positive affect result solely from an overall reduction in nucleus accumbens activity and fronto-striatal connectivity or the additional inability to sustain engagement of this network over time is unknown. The authors sought to determine whether treatment-induced changes in the ability to sustain nucleus accumbens activity and fronto-striatal connectivity during the regulation of positive affect are associated with gains in positive affect. METHOD Using fMRI, the authors assessed the ability to sustain activity in reward-related networks when attempting to increase positive emotion during performance of an emotion regulation paradigm in 21 depressed patients before and after 2 months of antidepressant treatment. Over the same interval, 14 healthy comparison subjects underwent scanning as well. RESULTS After 2 months of treatment, self-reported positive affect increased. The patients who demonstrated the largest increases in sustained nucleus accumbens activity over the 2 months were those who demonstrated the largest increases in positive affect. In addition, the patients who demonstrated the largest increases in sustained fronto-striatal connectivity were also those who demonstrated the largest increases in positive affect when controlling for negative affect. None of these associations were observed in healthy comparison subjects. CONCLUSIONS Treatment-induced change in the sustained engagement of fronto-striatal circuitry tracks the experience of positive emotion in daily life. Studies examining reduced positive affect in a variety of psychiatric disorders might benefit from examining the temporal dynamics of brain activity when attempting to understand changes in daily positive affect.
We used fMRI to examine amygdala activation in response to fearful facial expressions, measured over multiple scanning sessions. 15 human subjects underwent three scanning sessions, at 0, 2 and 8 weeks. During each session, functional brain images centered about the amygdala were acquired continuously while participants were shown alternating blocks of fearful, neutral and happy facial expressions. Intraclass correlation coefficients calculated across the sessions indicated stability of response in left amygdala to fearful faces (as a change from baseline), but considerably less left amygdala stability in responses to neutral expressions and for fear versus neutral contrasts. The results demonstrate that the measurement of fMRI BOLD responses in amygdala to fearful facial expressions might be usefully employed as an index of amygdala reactivity over extended periods. While signal change to fearful facial expressions appears robust, the experimental design employed here has yielded variable responsivity within baseline or comparison conditions. Future studies might manipulate the experimental design to either amplify or attenuate this variability, according to the goals of the research.
The experience of pain occurs when the level of a stimulus is sufficient to elicit a marked affective response, putatively to warn the organism of potential danger and motivate appropriate behavioral responses. Understanding the biological mechanisms of the transition from innocuous to painful levels of sensation is essential to understanding pain perception as well as clinical conditions characterized by abnormal relationships between stimulation and pain response. Thus, the primary objective of this study was to characterize the neural response associated with this transition and the correspondence between that response and subjective reports of pain. Towards this goal, this study examined BOLD response profiles across a range of temperatures spanning the pain threshold. 14 healthy adults underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while a range of thermal stimuli (44-49°C) were applied. BOLD responses showed a sigmoidal profile along the range of temperatures in a network of brain regions including insula and mid-cingulate, as well as a number of regions associated with motor responses including ventral lateral nuclei of the thalamus, globus pallidus and premotor cortex. A sigmoid function fit to the BOLD responses in these regions explained up to 85% of the variance in individual pain ratings, and yielded an estimate of the temperature of steepest transition from non-painful to painful heat that was nearly identical to that generated by subjective ratings. These results demonstrate a precise characterization of the relationship between objective levels of stimulation, resulting neural activation, and subjective experience of pain and provide direct evidence for a neural mechanism supporting the nonlinear transition from innocuous to painful levels along the sensory continuum.