Humans spend a substantial share of their lives mind-wandering. This spontaneous thinking activity usually comprises autobiographical recall, emotional, and self-referential components. While neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that a specific brain "default mode network" (DMN) is consistently engaged by the "resting state" of the mind, the relative contribution of key cognitive components to DMN activity is still poorly understood. Here we used fMRI to investigate whether activity in neural components of the DMN can be differentially explained by active recall of relevant emotional autobiographical memories as compared with the resting state. Our study design combined emotional autobiographical memory, neutral memory and resting state conditions, separated by a serial subtraction control task. Shared patterns of activation in the DMN were observed in both emotional autobiographical and resting conditions, when compared with serial subtraction. Directly contrasting autobiographical and resting conditions demonstrated a striking dissociation within the DMN in that emotional autobiographical retrieval led to stronger activation of the dorsomedial core regions (medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex), whereas the resting state condition engaged a ventral frontal network (ventral striatum, subgenual and ventral anterior cingulate cortices) in addition to the IPL. Our results reveal an as yet unreported dissociation within the DMN. Whereas the dorsomedial component can be explained by emotional autobiographical memory, the ventral frontal one is predominantly associated with the resting state proper, possibly underlying fundamental motivational mechanisms engaged during spontaneous unconstrained ideation.
Attachment to one's kin as an in-group emerges from a fundamental human motivation and is vital for human survival. Despite important recent advances in the field of social neuroscience, the neural mechanisms underlying family-related in-group perception remain obscure. To examine the neural basis of perceiving family-related in-group boundaries in response to written kinship scenarios, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging in 27 healthy adults and obtained self-report ratings of family-related entitativity, which measures to what degree participants perceive their family as a coherent and distinct group in society. We expected that activity in the subgenual cingulate cortex and septo-hypothalamic region would track individual differences in entitativity. Perceiving one's family as a distinct and cohesive group (high entitativity) was associated with increased subgenual cortex response to kinship scenarios. The subgenual cingulate cortex may represent a key link between kin-related emotional attachment and group perception, providing a neurobiological basis for group belongingness.
In Ridley Scott's film "Blade Runner", empathy-detection devices are employed to measure affiliative emotions. Despite recent neurocomputational advances, it is unknown whether brain signatures of affiliative emotions, such as tenderness/affection, can be decoded and voluntarily modulated. Here, we employed multivariate voxel pattern analysis and real-time fMRI to address this question. We found that participants were able to use visual feedback based on decoded fMRI patterns as a neurofeedback signal to increase brain activation characteristic of tenderness/affection relative to pride, an equally complex control emotion. Such improvement was not observed in a control group performing the same fMRI task without neurofeedback. Furthermore, the neurofeedback-driven enhancement of tenderness/affection-related distributed patterns was associated with local fMRI responses in the septohypothalamic area and frontopolar cortex, regions previously implicated in affiliative emotion. This demonstrates that humans can voluntarily enhance brain signatures of tenderness/affection, unlocking new possibilities for promoting prosocial emotions and countering antisocial behavior.
Altered reward processing has been proposed to contribute to the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The neurobiological mechanism underlying this alteration remains unclear. We hypothesize that the transfer of dopamine release from reward to reward-predicting cues, as normally observed in animal studies, may be deficient in ADHD. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to investigate striatal responses to reward-predicting cues and reward delivery in a classical conditioning paradigm. Data from 14 high-functioning and stimulant-naïve young adults with elevated lifetime symptoms of ADHD (8 males, 6 females) and 15 well-matched controls (8 males, 7 females) were included in the analyses. During reward anticipation, increased blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) responses in the right ventral and left dorsal striatum were observed in controls, but not in the ADHD group. The opposite pattern was observed in response to reward delivery; the ADHD group demonstrated significantly greater BOLD responses in the ventral striatum bilaterally and the left dorsal striatum relative to controls. In the ADHD group, the number of current hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms was inversely related to ventral striatal responses during reward anticipation and positively associated with responses to reward. The BOLD response patterns observed in the striatum are consistent with impaired predictive dopamine signaling in ADHD, which may explain altered reward-contingent behaviors and symptoms of ADHD.
The demonstration that humans can learn to modulate their own brain activity based on feedback of neurophysiological signals opened up exciting opportunities for fundamental and applied neuroscience. Although EEG-based neurofeedback has been long employed both in experimental and clinical investigation, functional MRI (fMRI)-based neurofeedback emerged as a promising method, given its superior spatial resolution and ability to gauge deep cortical and subcortical brain regions. In combination with improved computational approaches, such as pattern recognition analysis (e.g., Support Vector Machines, SVM), fMRI neurofeedback and brain decoding represent key innovations in the field of neuromodulation and functional plasticity. Expansion in this field and its applications critically depend on the existence of freely available, integrated and user-friendly tools for the neuroimaging research community. Here, we introduce FRIEND, a graphic-oriented user-friendly interface package for fMRI neurofeedback and real-time multivoxel pattern decoding. The package integrates routines for image preprocessing in real-time, ROI-based feedback (single-ROI BOLD level and functional connectivity) and brain decoding-based feedback using SVM. FRIEND delivers an intuitive graphic interface with flexible processing pipelines involving optimized procedures embedding widely validated packages, such as FSL and libSVM. In addition, a user-defined visual neurofeedback module allows users to easily design and run fMRI neurofeedback experiments using ROI-based or multivariate classification approaches. FRIEND is open-source and free for non-commercial use. Processing tutorials and extensive documentation are available.
D-serine is a co-agonist of NMDA receptor (NMDAR) and plays important roles in synaptic plasticity mechanisms. Serine racemase (SR) is a brain-enriched enzyme that converts L-serine to D-serine. SR interacts with the protein interacting with C-kinase 1 (PICK1), which is known to direct protein kinase C (PKC) to its targets in cells. Here, we investigated whether PKC activity regulates SR activity and D-serine availability in the brain. In vitro, PKC phosphorylated SR and decreased its activity. PKC activation increased SR phosphorylation in serine residues and reduced D-serine levels in astrocyte and neuronal cultures. Conversely, PKC inhibition decreased basal SR phosphorylation and increased cellular D-serine levels. In vivo modulation of PKC activity regulated both SR phosphorylation and D-serine levels in rat frontal cortex. Finally, rats that completed an object recognition task showed decreased SR phosphorylation and increased D-serine/total serine ratios, which was markedly correlated with decreased PKC activity in both cortex and hippocampus. Results indicate that PKC phosphorylates SR in serine residues and regulates D-serine availability in the brain. This interaction may be relevant for the regulation of physiological and pathological mechanisms linked to NMDAR function.
Comparative studies have established that a number of structures within the rostromedial basal forebrain are critical for affiliative behaviors and social attachment. Lesion and neuroimaging studies concur with the importance of these regions for attachment and the experience of affiliation in humans as well. Yet it remains obscure whether the neural bases of affiliative experiences can be differentiated from the emotional valence with which they are inextricably associated at the experiential level. Here we show, using functional MRI, that kinship-related social scenarios evocative of affiliative emotion induce septal-preoptic-anterior hypothalamic activity that cannot be explained by positive or negative emotional valence alone. Our findings suggest that a phylogenetically conserved ensemble of basal forebrain structures, especially the septohypothalamic area, may play a key role in enabling human affiliative emotion. Our finding of a neural signature of human affiliative experience bears direct implications for the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning impaired affiliative experiences and behaviors in neuropsychiatric conditions.
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