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Substantial evidence suggests that a key distinction in the classification of human emotion is that between an appetitive motivational system association with positive or pleasant emotion and an aversive motivational system associated with negative or unpleasant emotion. To explore the neural substrates of these two systems, 12 healthy women viewed sets of pictures previously demonstrated to elicit pleasant, unpleasant and neutral emotion, while positron emission tomographic (PET) measurements of regional cerebral blood flow were obtained. Pleasant and unpleasant emotions were each distinguished from neutral emotion conditions by significantly increased cerebral blood flow in the vicinity of the medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 9), thalamus, hypothalamus and midbrain (P < 0.005). Unpleasant was distinguished from neutral or pleasant emotion by activation of the bilateral occipito-temporal cortex and cerebellum, and left parahippocampal gyrus, hippocampus and amygdala (P < 0.005). Pleasant was also distinguished from neutral but not unpleasant emotion by activation of the head of the left caudate nucleus (P < 0.005). These findings are consistent with those from other recent PET studies of human emotion and demonstrate that there are both common and unique components of the neural networks mediating pleasant and unpleasant emotion in healthy women.