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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Annette Beatrix Brühl.

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Brühl, A.B., Scherpiet, S., Sulzer, J. et al. Real-time Neurofeedback Using Functional MRI Could Improve Down-Regulation of Amygdala Activity During Emotional Stimulation: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Brain Topogr 27, 138–148 (2014) doi:10.1007/s10548-013-0331-9

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Keywords

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