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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1032:254-7.

Neural circuits underlying emotional distress in humans.

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  • 1Program of Research on Stress, Addiction and Psychopathology, Departmetn of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 34 Park Street, Room S110, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.


Difficulties in the experiences and regulation of emotional stress have been associated with the development of psychiatric and substance use disorders. This study examined neural circuits underlying emotional distress in healthy volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques. Recall of personal nontraumatic, highly stressful life events with script-driven guided imagery was used to induce moderate levels of emotional distress in eight healthy volunteers. Subjects participated in six guided imagery trials (3 separate stress and 3 separate neutral-relaxing scripts each) interspersed by rest periods in a 1.5T scanner. Results indicated significant activation in the medial prefrontal, anterior cingulate, caudate, putamen, thalamus, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and posterior cingulate regions during emotional distress relative to brain activation during neutral-relaxing imagery. These findings suggest that specific striatal-limbic-prefrontal cortical circuits are involved in the experience and regulation of emotional stress in humans. The study also provides a feasible method to study brain correlates of emotional stress processing in healthy individuals and clinical samples.

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