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Published October 2005 | Published
Journal Article Open

Analysis of single-unit responses to emotional scenes in human ventromedial prefrontal cortex


Lesion and functional imaging studies in humans have shown that the ventral and medial prefrontal cortex is critically involved in the processing of emotional stimuli, but both of these methods have limited spatiotemporal resolution. Conversely, neurophysiological studies of emotion in nonhuman primates typically rely on stimuli that do not require elaborate cognitive processing. To begin bridging this gap, we recorded from a total of 267 neurons in the left and right orbital and anterior cingulate cortices of four patients who had chronically implanted depth electrodes for monitoring epilepsy. Peristimulus activity was recorded to standardized, complex visual scenes depicting neutral, pleasant, or aversive content. Recording locations were verified with postoperative magnetic resonance imaging. Using a conservative, multistep statistical evaluation, we found significant responses in 56 neurons; 16 of these were selective for only one emotion class, most often aversive. The findings suggest sparse and widely distributed processing of emotional value in the prefrontal cortex, with a predominance of responses to aversive stimuli.

Additional Information

© 2005 The MIT Press. We thank Kodi Scheer, Yota Kimura, John Brugge, Igor Volkov, Quingyu Li, and Soman Puzhankara for help with the experiments and data analysis; Mark Granner for providing epilepsy center services; and Daniel Tranel for help with background neuropsychological testing. We thank our epilepsy surgery patients for their generosity in participating in this research. This study was supported by grants from the EJLB Foundation, the Klingenstein Fund, and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

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