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Temperamentally anxious individuals can be identified in childhood and are at risk to develop anxiety and depressive disorders. In addition, these individuals tend to have extreme asymmetric right prefrontal brain activity. Although common and clinically important, little is known about the pathophysiology of anxious temperament. Regardless, indirect evidence from rodent studies and difficult to interpret primate studies is used to support the hypothesis that the amygdala plays a central role. In previous studies using rhesus monkeys, we characterized an anxious temperament endophenotype that is associated with excessive anxiety and fear-related responses and increased electrical activity in right frontal brain regions. To examine the role of the amygdala in mediating this endophenotype and other fearful responses, we prepared monkeys with selective fiber sparing ibotenic acid lesions of the amygdala. Unconditioned trait-like anxiety-fear responses remained intact in monkeys with >95% bilateral amygdala destruction. In addition, the lesions did not affect EEG frontal asymmetry. However, acute unconditioned fear responses, such as those elicited by exposure to a snake and to an unfamiliar threatening conspecific were blunted in monkeys with >70% lesions. These findings demonstrate that the primate amygdala is involved in mediating some acute unconditioned fear responses but challenge the notion that the amygdala is the key structure underlying the dispositional behavioral and physiological characteristics of anxious temperament.
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Recent evidence suggests that frontal brain electrical activity reveals asymmetries in activation in response to positive vs negative affective stimuli. This study was designed to evaluate whether this asymmetry is present at birth. Newborn infants were presented with water followed by a sucrose solution and then by a citric acid solution. Facial expression was videotaped during the presentation of the liquids and EEG was recorded from the frontal and parietal scalp regions on the left and right side. Usable EEG data were obtained from 16 newborn infants in response to these taste conditions. Videotaping of facial expression in response to these stimuli indicated the presence of disgust during both water (the first taste introduced) and citric acid. EEG was Fourier Transformed and power in the 1-3, 3-6 and 6-12 Hz bands was computed. The findings revealed that the water condition produced reductions in right-hemisphere power in the two higher frequency bands in both the scalp regions compared with the other two conditions. The sucrose condition produced greater relative left-sided activation in both regions compared with the water condition. These data, in conjunction with our previous findings of asymmetries in 10-month-old infants, indicate that stimulus-elicited affective asymmetries in brain electrical activity are present at birth.
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Transcendental Meditation (TM®) is derived from ancient yogic teachings. Both short- and long-term physiological correlates of TM® practice have been studied. EEG effects include increased alpha, theta, and gamma frequencies and increased coherence and synchrony. Neuronal hypersynchrony is also a cardinal feature of epilepsy, and subjective psychic symptoms, apnea, and myoclonic jerking are characteristic of both epileptic seizures and meditative states. Clinical vignettes have highlighted the potential risk of human kindling from repetitive meditation in persons practicing TM®, but clinical studies of similar techniques suggest that meditation may also be a potential antiepileptic therapy. Future clinical studies of meditating subjects using video/EEG monitoring are warranted to determine whether behavioral phenomena have an underlying epileptic basis, and prospective clinical trials of TM® in subjects with well-delineated epilepsy syndromes are necessary to establish the safety of this technique and its potential efficacy for seizure reduction and improvement of quality of life.