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Bratec, Satja Mulej; Xie, Xiyao; Wang, Yijun; Schilbach, Leonhard; Zimmer, Claus; Wohlschläger, Afra M.; Riedl, Valentin and Sorg, Christian (2017): Cognitive emotion regulation modulates the balance of competing influences on ventral striatal aversive prediction error signals. In: Neuroimage, Vol. 147: pp. 650-657

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Cognitive emotion regulation (CER) is a critical human ability to face aversive emotional stimuli in a flexible way, via recruitment of specific prefrontal brain circuits. Animal research reveals a central role of ventral striatum in emotional behavior, for both aversive conditioning, with striatum signaling aversive prediction errors (aPE), and for integrating competing influences of distinct striatal inputs from regions such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC), amygdala, hippocampus and ventral tegmental area (VTA). Translating these ventral striatal findings from animal research to human CER, we hypothesized that successful CER would affect the balance of competing influences of striatal afferents on striatal aPE signals, in a way favoring PFC as opposed to subcortical (i.e., non-isocortical) striatal inputs. Using aversive Pavlovian conditioning with and without CER during fMRI, we found that during CER, superior regulators indeed reduced the modulatory impact of subcortical striatal afferents (hippocampus, amygdala and VTA) on ventral striatal aPE signals, while keeping the PFC impact intact. In contrast, inferior regulators showed an opposite pattern. Our results demonstrate that ventral striatal aPE signals and associated competing modulatory inputs are critical mechanisms underlying successful cognitive regulation of aversive emotions in humans.

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