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Prefrontal-Subcortical Pathways Mediating Successful Emotion Regulation

Although prefrontal cortex has been implicated in the cognitive regulation of emotion, the cortical-subcortical interactions that mediate this ability remain poorly understood. To address this issue, we identified a right ventrolateral prefrontal region (vlPFC) whose activity correlated with reduced negative emotional experience during cognitive reappraisal of aversive images. We then applied a pathway-mapping analysis on subcortical regions to locate mediators of the association between vlPFC activity and reappraisal success (i.e., reductions in reported emotion). Results identified two separable pathways that together explained approximately 50% of the reported variance in self-reported emotion: (1) a path through nucleus accumbens that predicted greater reappraisal success, and (2) a path through ventral amygdala that predicted reduced reappraisal success (i.e., more negative emotion). These results provide direct evidence that vlPFC is involved in both the generation and regulation of emotion through different subcortical pathways, suggesting a general role for this region in appraisal processes.


001 emotional regulation task


  • Ochsner KN
  • Lindquist MA
  • Hughes BL
  • Davidson ML
  • Wager TD

Acknowledgements and Funding:

We would like to thank Niall Bolger for helpful discussion on path analysis, and the authors of SPM software for making it freely available. This paper was made possible with the support of NIH Grant MH076137 (K.O.), NIH Grant MH076136 (T.W.), and NSF 0631637 (T.W.)

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Neural mechanisms of emotion regulation: Evidence for two independent prefrontal-subcortical pathways

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1.5T GE Signa Twin Speed Excite HD scanner (GE Medical Systems)



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This data was obtained from the OpenfMRI database. Its accession number is ds000108



Warning: some of NIFTI files included in this dataset are missing orientation information (sform and qform). Distinguishing between left and right might not be possible. We are looking into fixing this issue.
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Revision: 2.0.0 Date Set: Oct. 18, 2016, 4:52 p.m.


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