Brain Topography

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 138–148 | Cite as

Real-time Neurofeedback Using Functional MRI Could Improve Down-Regulation of Amygdala Activity During Emotional Stimulation: A Proof-of-Concept Study

  • Annette Beatrix Brühl
  • Sigrid Scherpiet
  • James Sulzer
  • Philipp Stämpfli
  • Erich Seifritz
  • Uwe Herwig
Original Paper


The amygdala is a central target of emotion regulation. It is overactive and dysregulated in affective and anxiety disorders and amygdala activity normalizes with successful therapy of the symptoms. However, a considerable percentage of patients do not reach remission within acceptable duration of treatment. The amygdala could therefore represent a promising target for real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rtfMRI) neurofeedback. rtfMRI neurofeedback directly improves the voluntary regulation of localized brain activity. At present, most rtfMRI neurofeedback studies have trained participants to increase activity of a target, i.e. up-regulation. However, in the case of the amygdala, down-regulation is supposedly more clinically relevant. Therefore, we developed a task that trained participants to down-regulate activity of the right amygdala while being confronted with amygdala stimulation, i.e. negative emotional faces. The activity in the functionally-defined region was used as online visual feedback in six healthy subjects instructed to minimize this signal using reality checking as emotion regulation strategy. Over a period of four training sessions, participants significantly increased down-regulation of the right amygdala compared to a passive viewing condition to control for habilitation effects. This result supports the concept of using rtfMRI neurofeedback training to control brain activity during relevant stimulation, specifically in the case of emotion, and has implications towards clinical treatment of emotional disorders.


Real-time fMRI Neurofeedback Amygdala MPFC Emotion regulation Affective disorders Anxiety Faces 

Supplementary material

10548_2013_331_MOESM1_ESM.docx (86 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 85 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annette Beatrix Brühl
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sigrid Scherpiet
    • 1
    • 3
  • James Sulzer
    • 4
    • 5
  • Philipp Stämpfli
    • 6
  • Erich Seifritz
    • 1
  • Uwe Herwig
    • 1
    • 7
  1. 1.Department for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric HospitalUniversity of ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience InstituteUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Department of Neuropsychology, Institute of PsychologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Department of Health Sciences and TechnologySwiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETHZurichSwitzerland
  5. 5.Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  6. 6.MR-Center of the Psychiatric Hospital and the Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  7. 7.Department of Psychiatry and PsychotherapyUniversity of UlmUlmGermany

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