OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effect of a short-term yoga-based lifestyle intervention on risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and markers of inflammation and endothelial function in overweight and obese men. DESIGN: Nonrandomized prospective lifestyle intervention study with pre-post design. SETTING AND LOCATION: Integral Health Clinic, an outpatient facility providing yoga-based lifestyle intervention programs for prevention and management of chronic diseases. SUBJECTS: Overweight and obese men (n=51) were enrolled in the study. Subjects who were physically unable to participate and those participating in other interventions were excluded from the study. INTERVENTION: A pretested intervention program including asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), group discussions, lectures, and individualized advice. OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measure was weight loss, and the secondary outcome measures were clinical and laboratory correlates of CVD risk, levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), adiponectin, and endothelin-1 (ET-1). RESULTS: Men (n=51, body mass index [BMI] 26.26±2.42 kg/m(2)) were enrolled and underwent a yoga-based lifestyle intervention for 10 days. Of 51 subjects, 30 completed the study. There was a significant reduction in weight from Baseline to Day 10 (74.60±7.98, 72.69±8.37 kg, p<0.001, respectively), BMI (26.26±2.42, 25.69±2.47 kg/m(2), p<0.001, respectively), and systolic BP (121.73±11.58, 116.73±9.00, p=0.042, respectively). There was a significant reduction in plasma IL-6 from Baseline to Day 10 (median 2.24 vs. 1.26 pg/mL, respectively, p=0.012). There was a significant increase in the plasma adiponectin from Baseline to Day 10 (median 4.95 vs. 6.26 μg/mL, respectively, p=0.014). Plasma ET-1 level remained unchanged. CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that even a short-term yoga-based lifestyle intervention may be an important modality to reduce the risk for CVD as indicated by weight loss, reduction in systolic blood pressure, an increase in adiponectin, and decrease in IL-6 in overweight and obese men.
Functional neuroimaging studies have implicated the fusiform gyri (FG) in structural encoding of faces, while event-related potential (ERP) and magnetoencephalography studies have shown that such encoding occurs approximately 170 ms poststimulus. Behavioral and functional neuroimaging studies suggest that processes involved in face recognition may be strongly modulated by socially relevant information conveyed by faces. To test the hypothesis that affective information indeed modulates early stages of face processing, ERPs were recorded to individually assessed liked, neutral, and disliked faces and checkerboard-reversal stimuli. At the N170 latency, the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density was computed in stereotactic space using a tomographic source localization technique. Mean activity was extracted from the FG, defined by structure-probability maps, and a meta-cluster delineated by the coordinates of the voxel with the strongest face-sensitive response from five published functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. In the FG, approximately 160 ms poststimulus, liked faces elicited stronger activation than disliked and neutral faces and checkerboard-reversal stimuli. Further, confirming recent results, affect-modulated brain electrical activity started very early in the human brain (approximately 112 ms). These findings suggest that affective features conveyed by faces modulate structural face encoding. Behavioral results from an independent study revealed that the stimuli were not biased toward particular facial expressions and confirmed that liked faces were rated as more attractive. Increased FG activation for liked faces may thus be interpreted as reflecting enhanced attention due to their saliency.
The primary taste cortex consists of the insula and operculum. Previous work has indicated that neurons in the primary taste cortex respond solely to sensory input from taste receptors and lingual somatosensory receptors. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show here that expectancy modulates these neural responses in humans. When subjects were led to believe that a highly aversive bitter taste would be less distasteful than it actually was, they reported it to be less aversive than when they had accurate information about the taste and, moreover, the primary taste cortex was less strongly activated. In addition, the activation of the right insula and operculum tracked online ratings of the aversiveness for each taste. Such expectancy-driven modulation of primary sensory cortex may affect perceptions of external events.
Despite growing evidence on the neural bases of emotion regulation, little is known about the mechanisms underlying individual differences in cognitive regulation of negative emotion, and few studies have used objective measures to quantify regulatory success. Using a trait-like psychophysiological measure of emotion regulation, corrugator electromyography, we obtained an objective index of the ability to cognitively reappraise negative emotion in 56 healthy men (Session 1), who returned 1.3 years later to perform the same regulation task using fMRI (Session 2). Results indicated that the corrugator measure of regulatory skill predicted amygdala-prefrontal functional connectivity. Individuals with greater ability to down-regulate negative emotion as indexed by corrugator at Session 1 showed not only greater amygdala attenuation but also greater inverse connectivity between the amygdala and several sectors of the prefrontal cortex while down-regulating negative emotion at Session 2. Our results demonstrate that individual differences in emotion regulation are stable over time and underscore the important role of amygdala-prefrontal coupling for successful regulation of negative emotion.
Although the co-occurrence of negative affect and pain is well recognized, the mechanism underlying their association is unclear. To examine whether a common self-regulatory ability impacts the experience of both emotion and pain, we integrated neuroimaging, behavioral, and physiological measures obtained from three assessments separated by substantial temporal intervals. Our results demonstrated that individual differences in emotion regulation ability, as indexed by an objective measure of emotional state, corrugator electromyography, predicted self-reported success while regulating pain. In both emotion and pain paradigms, the amygdala reflected regulatory success. Notably, we found that greater emotion regulation success was associated with greater change of amygdalar activity following pain regulation. Furthermore, individual differences in degree of amygdalar change following emotion regulation were a strong predictor of pain regulation success, as well as of the degree of amygdalar engagement following pain regulation. These findings suggest that common individual differences in emotion and pain regulatory success are reflected in a neural structure known to contribute to appraisal processes.
The amygdalae are important, if not critical, brain regions for many affective, attentional and memorial processes, and dysfunction of the amygdalae has been a consistent finding in the study of clinical depression. Theoretical models of the functional neuroanatomy of both normal and psychopathological affective processes which posit cortical hemispheric specialization of functions have been supported by both lesion and functional neuroimaging studies in humans. Results from human neuroimaging studies in support of amygdalar hemispheric specialization are inconsistent. However, recent results from human lesion studies are consistent with hemispheric specialization. An important, yet largely ignored, feature of the amygdalae in the primate brain--derived from both neuroanatomical and electrophysiological data--is that there are virtually no direct interhemispheric connections via the anterior commissure (AC). This feature stands in stark contrast to that of the rodent brain wherein virtually all amygdalar nuclei have direct interhemispheric connections. We propose this feature of the primate brain, in particular the human brain, is a result of influences from frontocortical hemispheric specialization which have developed over the course of primate brain evolution. Results consistent with this notion were obtained by examining the nature of human amygdalar interhemispheric connectivity using both functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). We found modest evidence of amygdalar interhemispheric functional connectivity in the non-depressed brain, whereas there was strong evidence of functional connectivity in the depressed brain. We interpret and discuss the nature of this connectivity in the depressed brain in the context of dysfunctional frontocortical-amygdalar interactions which accompany clinical depression.
BACKGROUND: Autism is a syndrome of unknown cause, marked by abnormal development of social behavior. Attempts to link pathological features of the amygdala, which plays a key role in emotional processing, to autism have shown little consensus. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate amygdala volume in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and its relationship to laboratory measures of social behavior to examine whether variations in amygdala structure relate to symptom severity. DESIGN: We conducted 2 cross-sectional studies of amygdala volume, measured blind to diagnosis on high-resolution, anatomical magnetic resonance images. Participants were 54 males aged 8 to 25 years, including 23 with autism and 5 with Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, recruited and evaluated at an academic center for developmental disabilities and 26 age- and sex-matched community volunteers. The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised was used to confirm diagnoses and to validate relationships with laboratory measures of social function. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Amygdala volume, judgment of facial expressions, and eye tracking. RESULTS: In study 1, individuals with autism who had small amygdalae were slowest to distinguish emotional from neutral expressions (P=.02) and showed least fixation of eye regions (P=.04). These same individuals were most socially impaired in early childhood, as reported on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (P<.04). Study 2 showed smaller amygdalae in individuals with autism than in control subjects (P=.03) and group differences in the relation between amygdala volume and age. Study 2 also replicated findings of more gaze avoidance and childhood impairment in participants with autism with the smallest amygdalae. Across the combined sample, severity of social deficits interacted with age to predict different patterns of amygdala development in autism (P=.047). CONCLUSIONS: These findings best support a model of amygdala hyperactivity that could explain most volumetric findings in autism. Further psychophysiological and histopathological studies are indicated to confirm these findings.
OBJECTIVE: The anterior cingulate cortex has been implicated in depression. Results are best interpreted by considering anatomic and cytoarchitectonic subdivisions. Evidence suggests depression is characterized by hypoactivity in the dorsal anterior cingulate, whereas hyperactivity in the rostral anterior cingulate is associated with good response to treatment. The authors tested the hypothesis that activity in the rostral anterior cingulate during the depressed state has prognostic value for the degree of eventual response to treatment. Whereas prior studies used hemodynamic imaging, this investigation used EEG. METHOD: The authors recorded 28-channel EEG data for 18 unmedicated patients with major depression and 18 matched comparison subjects. Clinical outcome was assessed after nortriptyline treatment. Of the 18 depressed patients, 16 were considered responders 4-6 months after initial assessment. A median split was used to classify response, and the pretreatment EEG data of patients showing better (N=9) and worse (N=9) responses were analyzed with low-resolution electromagnetic tomography, a new method to compute three-dimensional cortical current density for given EEG frequency bands according to a Talairach brain atlas. RESULTS: The patients with better responses showed hyperactivity (higher theta activity) in the rostral anterior cingulate (Brodmann's area 24/32). Follow-up analyses demonstrated the specificity of this finding, which was not confounded by age or pretreatment depression severity. CONCLUSIONS: These results, based on electrophysiological imaging, not only support hemodynamic findings implicating activation of the anterior cingulate as a predictor of response in depression, but they also suggest that differential activity in the rostral anterior cingulate is associated with gradations of response.
OBJECTIVE: The anticipation of adverse outcomes, or worry, is a cardinal symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. Prior work with healthy subjects has shown that anticipating aversive events recruits a network of brain regions, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. This study tested whether patients with generalized anxiety disorder have alterations in anticipatory amygdala function and whether anticipatory activity in the anterior cingulate cortex predicts treatment response. METHOD: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was employed with 14 generalized anxiety disorder patients and 12 healthy comparison subjects matched for age, sex, and education. The event-related fMRI paradigm was composed of one warning cue that preceded aversive pictures and a second cue that preceded neutral pictures. Following the fMRI session, patients received 8 weeks of treatment with extended-release venlafaxine. RESULTS: Patients with generalized anxiety disorder showed greater anticipatory activity than healthy comparison subjects in the bilateral dorsal amygdala preceding both aversive and neutral pictures. Building on prior reports of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity predicting treatment response, anticipatory activity in that area was associated with clinical outcome 8 weeks later following treatment with venlafaxine. Higher levels of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity in anticipation of both aversive and neutral pictures were associated with greater reductions in anxiety and worry symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: These findings of heightened and indiscriminate amygdala responses to anticipatory signals in generalized anxiety disorder and of anterior cingulate cortex associations with treatment response provide neurobiological support for the role of anticipatory processes in the pathophysiology of generalized anxiety disorder.
Research on the neural substrates of emotion has found evidence for cortical asymmetries for aspects of emotion. A recent article by Nicholls et al. has used a new imaging method to interrogate facial movement in 3D to assess possible asymmetrical action during expressions of happiness and sadness. Greater left-sided movement, particularly during expressions of sadness was observed. These findings have implications for understanding hemispheric differences in emotion and lend support to the notion that aspects of emotion processing might be differentially localized in the two hemispheres.
<p>Enhancing body awareness has been described as a key element or a mechanism of action for therapeutic approaches often categorized as mind-body approaches, such as yoga, TaiChi, Body-Oriented Psychotherapy, Body Awareness Therapy, mindfulness based therapies/meditation, Feldenkrais, Alexander Method, Breath Therapy and others with reported benefits for a variety of health conditions. To better understand the conceptualization of body awareness in mind-body therapies, leading practitioners and teaching faculty of these approaches were invited as well as their patients to participate in focus groups. The qualitative analysis of these focus groups with representative practitioners of body awareness practices, and the perspectives of their patients, elucidated the common ground of their understanding of body awareness. For them body awareness is an inseparable aspect of embodied self awareness realized in action and interaction with the environment and world. It is the awareness of embodiment as an innate tendency of our organism for emergent self-organization and wholeness. The process that patients undergo in these therapies was seen as a progression towards greater unity between body and self, very similar to the conceptualization of embodiment as dialectic of body and self described by some philosophers as being experienced in distinct developmental levels.</p>
The brain and the cardiovascular system influence each other during the processing of emotion. The study of the interactions of these systems during emotion regulation has been limited in human functional neuroimaging, despite its potential importance for physical health. We have previously reported that mental expertise in cultivation of compassion alters the activation of circuits linked with empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli. Guided by the finding that heart rate increases more during blocks of compassion meditation than neutral states, especially for experts, we examined the interaction between state (compassion vs. neutral) and group (novice, expert) on the relation between heart rate and BOLD signal during presentation of emotional sounds presented during each state. Our findings revealed that BOLD signal in the right middle insula showed a significant association with heart rate (HR) across state and group. This association was stronger in the left middle/posterior insula when experts were compared to novices. The positive coupling of HR and BOLD was higher within the compassion state than within the neutral state in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex for both groups, underlining the role of this region in the modulation of bodily arousal states. This state effect was stronger for experts than novices in somatosensory cortices and the right inferior parietal lobule (group by state interaction). These data confirm that compassion enhances the emotional and somatosensory brain representations of others' emotions, and that this effect is modulated by expertise. Future studies are needed to further investigate the impact of compassion training on these circuits.
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most commonly known genetic disorder associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Overlapping features in these populations include gaze aversion, communication deficits, and social withdrawal. Although the association between FXS and ASD has been well documented at the behavioral level, the underlying neural mechanisms associated with the social/emotional deficits in these groups remain unclear. We collected functional brain images and eye-gaze fixations from 9 individuals with FXS and 14 individuals with idiopathic ASD, as well as 15 typically developing (TD) individuals, while they performed a facial-emotion discrimination task. The FXS group showed a similar yet less aberrant pattern of gaze fixations compared with the ASD group. The FXS group also showed fusiform gyrus (FG) hypoactivation compared with the TD control group. Activation in FG was strongly and positively associated with average eye fixation and negatively associated with ASD characteristics in the FXS group. The FXS group displayed significantly greater activation than both the TD control and ASD groups in the left hippocampus (HIPP), left superior temporal gyrus (STG), right insula (INS), and left postcentral gyrus (PCG). These group differences in brain activation are important as they suggest unique underlying face-processing neural circuitry in FXS versus idiopathic ASD, largely supporting the hypothesis that ASD characteristics in FXS and idiopathic ASD reflect partially divergent impairments at the neural level, at least in FXS individuals without a co-morbid diagnosis of ASD.
The experience of aversion is shaped by multiple physiological and psychological factors including one's expectations. Recent work has shown that expectancy manipulation can alter perceptions of aversive events and concomitant brain activation. Accruing evidence indicates a primary role of altered expectancies in the placebo effect. Here, we probed the mechanism by which expectation attenuates sensory taste transmission by examining how brain areas activated by misleading information during an expectancy period modulate insula and amygdala activation to a highly aversive bitter taste. In a rapid event-related fMRI design, we showed that activations in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to a misleading cue that the taste would be mildly aversive predicted decreases in insula and amygdala activation to the highly aversive taste. OFC and rACC activation to the misleading cue were also associated with less aversive ratings of that taste. Additional analyses revealed consistent results demonstrating functional connectivity among the OFC, rACC, and insula. Altering expectancies of upcoming aversive events are shown here to depend on robust functional associations among brain regions implicated in prior work on the placebo effect.
The anterior medial prefrontal (AMPFC) and retrosplenial (RSC) cortices are active during self-referential decision-making tasks such as when participants appraise traits and abilities, or current affect. Other appraisal tasks requiring an evaluative decision or mental representation, such as theory of mind and perspective-taking tasks, also involve these regions. In many instances, these types of decisions involve a subjective opinion or preference, but also a degree of ambiguity in the decision, rather than a strictly veridical response. However, this ambiguity is generally not controlled for in studies that examine self-referential decision-making. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment with 17 healthy adults, we examined neural processes associated with subjective decision-making with and without an overt self-referential component. The task required subjective decisions about colors-regarding self-preference (internal subjective decision) or color similarity (external subjective decision) under conditions where there was no objectively correct response. Results indicated greater activation in the AMPFC, RSC, and caudate nucleus during internal subjective decision-making. The findings suggest that self-referential processing, rather than subjective judgments among ambiguous response alternatives, accounted for the AMPFC and RSC response.
First described for use in mapping the human visual cortex in 1991, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is based on blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) changes in cortical regions that occur during specific tasks. Typically, an overabundance of oxygenated (arterial) blood is supplied during activation of brain areas. Consequently, the venous outflow from the activated areas contains a higher concentration of oxyhemoglobin, which changes the paramagnetic properties of the tissue that can be detected during a T2-star acquisition. fMRI data can be acquired in response to specific tasks or in the resting state. fMRI has been widely applied to studying physiologic and pathophysiologic diseases of the brain. This review will discuss the most common current clinical applications of fMRI as well as emerging directions.
Functional neuroimaging research has demonstrated that retrieving information about object-associated colors activates the left fusiform gyrus in posterior temporal cortex. Although regions near the fusiform have previously been implicated in color perception, it remains unclear whether color knowledge retrieval actually activates the color perception system. Evidence to this effect would be particularly strong if color perception cortex was activated by color knowledge retrieval triggered strictly with linguistic stimuli. To address this question, subjects performed two tasks while undergoing fMRI. First, subjects performed a property verification task using only words to assess conceptual knowledge. On each trial, subjects verified whether a named color or motor property was true of a named object (e.g., TAXI-yellow, HAIR-combed). Next, subjects performed a color perception task. A region of the left fusiform gyrus that was highly responsive during color perception also showed greater activity for retrieving color than motor property knowledge. These data provide the first evidence for a direct overlap in the neural bases of color perception and stored information about object-associated color, and they significantly add to accumulating evidence that conceptual knowledge is grounded in the brain's modality-specific systems.
The authors compared 12 pairs of cerebral [18F]-fluoro-deoxyglucose (FDG) 2D/3D image sets from a GE/Advance PET scanner, incorporating the actual corrections used on human subjects. Differences in resolution consistent with other published values were found. There is a significant difference in axial resolution between 2D and 3D, and the authors focused on this as it is a scanner feature that cannot be readily changed. Previously published values for spatial axial resolution in 2D and 3D modes were used to model the differential axial smoothing at each image voxel. This model was applied to the 2D FDG images, and the resulting smoothed data indicate the published differences in axial resolution between 2D and 3D modes can account for 30-40% of the differences between these image sets. The authors then investigated the effect this difference might have on analysis typically performed on human FDG data. A phantom containing spherical hot- and cool-spots in a warm background to mimic a typical human cerebral FDG PET scan was scanned for a variety of time durations (30, 15, 5, 1 min). Only for the 1-minute frame (total counts 2D:6M, 3D:30M) is there an advantage to using 3D mode; for the longer frames which are more typical of a human FDG protocol, the reliability for extracting regions-of-interest is the same for either mode while 2D mode shows better quantitative accuracy
Motion correction of fMRI data is a widely used step prior to data analysis. In this study, a comparison of the motion correction tools provided by several leading fMRI analysis software packages was performed, including AFNI, AIR, BrainVoyager, FSL, and SPM2. Comparisons were performed using data from typical human studies as well as phantom data. The identical reconstruction, preprocessing, and analysis steps were used on every data set, except that motion correction was performed using various configurations from each software package. Each package was studied using default parameters, as well as parameters optimized for speed and accuracy. Forty subjects performed a Go/No-go task (an event-related design that investigates inhibitory motor response) and an N-back task (a block-design paradigm investigating working memory). The human data were analyzed by extracting a set of general linear model (GLM)-derived activation results and comparing the effect of motion correction on thresholded activation cluster size and maximum t value. In addition, a series of simulated phantom data sets were created with known activation locations, magnitudes, and realistic motion. Results from the phantom data indicate that AFNI and SPM2 yield the most accurate motion estimation parameters, while AFNI's interpolation algorithm introduces the least smoothing. AFNI is also the fastest of the packages tested. However, these advantages did not produce noticeably better activation results in motion-corrected data from typical human fMRI experiments. Although differences in performance between packages were apparent in the human data, no single software package produced dramatically better results than the others. The "accurate" parameters showed virtually no improvement in cluster t values compared to the standard parameters. While the "fast" parameters did not result in a substantial increase in speed, they did not degrade the cluster results very much either. The phantom and human data indicate that motion correction can be a valuable step in the data processing chain, yielding improvements of up to 20% in the magnitude and up to 100% in the cluster size of detected activations, but the choice of software package does not substantially affect this improvement.
Concepts develop for many aspects of experience, including abstract internal states and abstract social activities that do not refer to concrete entities in the world. The current study assessed the hypothesis that, like concrete concepts, distributed neural patterns of relevant nonlinguistic semantic content represent the meanings of abstract concepts. In a novel neuroimaging paradigm, participants processed two abstract concepts (convince, arithmetic) and two concrete concepts (rolling, red) deeply and repeatedly during a concept-scene matching task that grounded each concept in typical contexts. Using a catch trial design, neural activity associated with each concept word was separated from neural activity associated with subsequent visual scenes to assess activations underlying the detailed semantics of each concept. We predicted that brain regions underlying mentalizing and social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to convince, whereas brain regions underlying numerical cognition (e.g., bilateral intraparietal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to arithmetic. The results supported these predictions, suggesting that the meanings of abstract concepts arise from distributed neural systems that represent concept-specific content.
In a recent neuroimaging study of macaque monkeys, Gil-da-Costa and colleagues reported that a distributed circuit of modality-specific properties represents macaques' conceptual knowledge of social situations. The circuit identified shows striking similarities to analogous circuits in humans that represent conceptual knowledge. This parallel suggests that a common architecture underlies the conceptual systems of different species, although with additional systems extending human conceptual abilities significantly.
We present a novel data smoothing and analysis framework for cortical thickness data defined on the brain cortical manifold. Gaussian kernel smoothing, which weights neighboring observations according to their 3D Euclidean distance, has been widely used in 3D brain images to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. When the observations lie on a convoluted brain surface, however, it is more natural to assign the weights based on the geodesic distance along the surface. We therefore develop a framework for geodesic distance-based kernel smoothing and statistical analysis on the cortical manifolds. As an illustration, we apply our methods in detecting the regions of abnormal cortical thickness in 16 high functioning autistic children via random field based multiple comparison correction that utilizes the new smoothing technique.
Many investigators have hypothesized that brain response to cortisol is altered in depression. However, neural activation in response to exogenously manipulated cortisol elevations has not yet been directly examined in depressed humans. Animal research shows that glucocorticoids have robust effects on hippocampal function, and can either enhance or suppress neuroplastic events in the hippocampus depending on a number of factors. We hypothesized that depressed individuals would show 1) altered hippocampal response to exogenous administration of cortisol, and 2) altered effects of cortisol on learning. In a repeated-measures design, 19 unmedicated depressed and 41 healthy individuals completed two fMRI scans. Fifteen mg oral hydrocortisone (i.e., cortisol) or placebo (order randomized and double-blind) was administered 1 h prior to encoding of emotional and neutral words during fMRI scans. Data analysis examined the effects of cortisol administration on 1) brain activation during encoding, and 2) subsequent free recall for words. Cortisol affected subsequent recall performance in depressed but not healthy individuals. We found alterations in hippocampal response to cortisol in depressed women, but not in depressed men (who showed altered response to cortisol in other regions, including subgenual prefrontal cortex). In both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function were positively correlated with its effects on recall performance assessed days later. Our data provide evidence that in depressed compared to healthy women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function are altered. Our data also show that in both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on emotional memory formation and hippocampal function are related.
Summary Stress disorders are among the most commonly occurring of all mental disorders. In this context, the question arises whether the stress inevitably unfolding around us has the potential to “contaminate” and compromise us. In the current multi-center study, we investigate the existence of such empathic stress (defined as a full-blown physiological stress response that arises solely by observing a target undergo a stressful situation), and whether empathic stress permeates to the core of the stress system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Additionally, we investigate whether empathic stress responses may be modulated by the familiarity between observer and target (partners vs. strangers), the modality of observation (real-life vs. virtual) and observer sex (female vs. male). Participants were tested in dyads, paired with a loved one or a stranger of the opposite sex. While the target of the dyad (n = 151) was exposed to a psychosocial stressor, the observer (n = 211) watched through a one-way mirror or via live video transmission. Overall, 26% of the observers displayed physiologically significant cortisol increases. This empathic stress was more pronounced in intimate observer-target dyads (40%) and during the real-life representation of the stressor (30%). Empathic stress was further modulated by interindividual differences in empathy measures. Despite the higher prevalence of empathic stress in the partner and real-life observation conditions, significant cortisol responses also emerged in strangers (10%) and the virtual observation modality (24%). The occurrence of empathic stress down to the level of HPA-axis activation, in some cases even in total strangers and when only virtually witnessing another's distress, may have important implications for the development of stress-related diseases.
In rodents, theta rhythm has been linked to the hippocampal formation, as well as other regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). To test the role of the ACC in theta rhythm, concurrent measurements of brain electrical activity (EEG) and glucose metabolism (PET) were performed in 29 subjects at baseline. EEG data were analyzed with a source localization technique that enabled voxelwise correlations of EEG and PET data. For theta, but not other bands, the rostral ACC (Brodmann areas 24/32) was the largest cluster with positive correlations between current density and glucose metabolism. Positive correlations were also found in right fronto-temporal regions. In control but not depressed subjects, theta within ACC and prefrontal/orbitofrontal regions was positively correlated. The results reveal a link between theta and cerebral metabolism in the ACC as well as disruption of functional connectivity within frontocingulate pathways in depression.