Modulating Emotional Experience Using Electrical Stimulation of the Medial-Prefrontal Cortex: A Preliminary tDCS-fMRI Study

Rany Abend, Roy Sar-el, Tal Gonen, Itamar Jalon, Sharon Vaisvaser, Yair Bar-Haim, Talma Hendler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: Implicit regulation of emotions involves medial-prefrontal cortex (mPFC) regions exerting regulatory control over limbic structures. Diminished regulation relates to aberrant mPFC functionality and psychopathology. Establishing means of modulating mPFC functionality could benefit research on emotion and its dysregulation. Here, we tested the capacity of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) targeting mPFC to modulate subjective emotional states by facilitating implicit emotion regulation. Materials and Methods: Stimulation was applied concurrently with functional magnetic resonance imaging to validate its neurobehavioral effect. Sixteen participants were each scanned twice, counterbalancing active and sham tDCS application, while undergoing negative mood induction (clips featuring negative vs. neutral contents). Effects of stimulation on emotional experience were assessed using subjective and neural measures. Results: Subjectively, active stimulation led to significant reduction in reported intensity of experienced emotions to negatively valenced (p = 0.005) clips but not to neutral clips (p > 0.99). Active stimulation further mitigated a rise in stress levels from pre- to post-induction (sham: p = 0.004; active: p = 0.15). Neurally, stimulation increased activation in mPFC regions associated with implicit emotion regulation (ventromedial-prefrontal cortex; subgenual anterior-cingulate cortex, sgACC), and in ventral striatum, a core limbic structure (all ps < 0.05). Stimulation also altered functional connectivity (assessed using whole-brain psycho-physiological interaction) between these regions, and with additional limbic regions. Stimulation-induced sgACC activation correlated with reported emotion intensity and depressive symptoms (rs > 0.64, ps < 0.018), suggesting individual differences in stimulation responsivity. Conclusions: Results of this study indicate the potential capacity of tDCS to facilitate brain activation in mPFC regions underlying implicit regulation of emotion and accordingly modulate subjective emotional experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)884-893
Number of pages10
JournalNeuromodulation
Volume22
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Keywords

  • emotion regulation
  • fMRI
  • medial-prefrontal cortex
  • stimulation
  • tDCS

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