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Neuroimage. 2012 Jan 16;59(2):1804-17. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.08.018. Epub 2011 Aug 22.

Distinct pathways of neural coupling for different basic emotions.

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Department of Nuclear Medicine and Division of Neuroscience, Scientific Institute San Raffaele, Milano, Italy.


Emotions are complex events recruiting distributed cortical and subcortical cerebral structures, where the functional integration dynamics within the involved neural circuits in relation to the nature of the different emotions are still unknown. Using fMRI, we measured the neural responses elicited by films representing basic emotions (fear, disgust, sadness, happiness). The amygdala and the associative cortex were conjointly activated by all basic emotions. Furthermore, distinct arrays of cortical and subcortical brain regions were additionally activated by each emotion, with the exception of sadness. Such findings informed the definition of three effective connectivity models, testing for the functional integration of visual cortex and amygdala, as regions processing all emotions, with domain-specific regions, namely: i) for fear, the frontoparietal system involved in preparing adaptive motor responses; ii) for disgust, the somatosensory system, reflecting protective responses against contaminating stimuli; iii) for happiness: medial prefrontal and temporoparietal cortices involved in understanding joyful interactions. Consistently with these domain-specific models, the results of the effective connectivity analysis indicate that the amygdala is involved in distinct functional integration effects with cortical networks processing sensorimotor, somatosensory, or cognitive aspects of basic emotions. The resulting effective connectivity networks may serve to regulate motor and cognitive behavior based on the quality of the induced emotional experience.

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