BACKGROUND: EEG alpha power has been demonstrated to be inversely related to mental activity and has subsequently been used as an indirect measure of brain activation. The hypothesis that the thalamus serves as a neuronal oscillator of alpha rhythms has been supported by studies in animals, but only minimally by studies in humans. METHODS: In the current study, PET-derived measures of regional glucose metabolism, EEG, and structural MRI were obtained from each participant to assess the relation between thalamic metabolic activity and alpha power in depressed patients and healthy controls. The thalamus was identified and drawn on each subject's MRI. The MRI was then co-registered to the corresponding PET scan and metabolic activity from the thalamus extracted. Thalamic activity was then correlated with a 30-min aggregated average of alpha EEG power. RESULTS: Robust inverse correlations were observed in the control data, indicating that greater thalamic metabolism is correlated with decreased alpha power. No relation was found in the depressed patient data. CONCLUSIONS: The results are discussed in the context of a possible abnormality in thalamocortical circuitry associated with depression.
Planned and reflexive behaviors often occur in the presence of emotional stimuli and within the context of an individual's acute emotional state. Therefore, determining the manner in which emotion and attention interact is an important step toward understanding how we function in the real world. Participants in the current investigation viewed centrally displayed, task-irrelevant, face distractors (angry, neutral, happy) while performing a lateralized go/no-go continuous performance task. Lateralized go targets and no-go lures that did not spatially overlap with the faces were employed to differentially probe processing in the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres. There was a significant interaction between expression and hemisphere, with an overall pattern such that angry distractors were associated with relatively more RH inhibitory errors than neutral or happy distractors and happy distractors with relatively more LH inhibitory errors than angry or neutral distractors. Simple effects analyses confirmed that angry faces differentially interfered with RH relative to LH inhibition and with inhibition in the RH relative to happy faces. A significant three-way interaction further revealed that state anxiety moderated relations between emotional expression and hemisphere. Under conditions of low cognitive load, more intense anxiety was associated with relatively greater RH than LH impairment in the presence of both happy and threatening distractors. By contrast, under high load, only angry distractors produced greater RH than LH interference as a function of anxiety.
Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Nevertheless, little is known about possible links to brain structure. Using high-resolution MRI data of 44 subjects, we set out to examine the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation with different regional specificity (i.e., global, regional, and local). For this purpose, we applied voxel-based morphometry in association with a recently validated automated parcellation approach. We detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex (as well as in the right thalamus and left inferior temporal gyrus when co-varying for age and/or lowering applied statistical thresholds). In addition, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators' singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior. We further suggest that these regional alterations in brain structures constitute part of the underlying neurological correlate of long-term meditation independent of a specific style and practice. Future longitudinal analyses are necessary to establish the presence and direction of a causal link between meditation practice and brain anatomy.
This commentary provides reflections on the current state of affairs in research on EEG frontal asymmetries associated with affect. Although considerable progress has occurred since the first report on this topic 25 years ago, research on frontal EEG asymmetries associated with affect has largely evolved in the absence of any serious connection with neuroscience research on the structure and function of the primate prefrontal cortex (PFC). Such integration is important as this work progresses since the neuroscience literature can help to understand what the prefrontal cortex is "doing" in affective processing. Data from the neuroscience literature on the heterogeneity of different sectors of the PFC are introduced and more specific hypotheses are offered about what different sectors of the PFC might be doing in affect. A number of methodological issues associated with EEG measures of functional prefrontal asymmetries are also considered.