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Nat Neurosci. 2001 Feb;4(2):207-12.

Neuroanatomical basis for first- and second-order representations of bodily states.

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  • 1Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, University College London, 12 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK.


Changes in bodily states, particularly those mediated by the autonomic nervous system, are crucial to ongoing emotional experience. A theoretical model proposes a first-order autoregulatory representation of bodily state at the level of dorsal pons, and a second-order experience-dependent re-mapping of changes in bodily state within structures such as cingulate and medial parietal cortices. We tested these anatomical predictions using positron emission tomography and a human neurological model (pure autonomic failure), in which peripheral autonomic denervation prevents the emergence of autonomic responses. Compared to controls, we observed task-independent differences in activity of dorsal pons and context-induced differences in cingulate and medial parietal activity in PAF patients. An absence of afferent feedback concerning autonomically generated bodily states was associated with subtle impairments of emotional responses in PAF patients. Our findings provide empirical support for a theory proposing a hierarchical representation of bodily states.

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