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Regulation of emotional behavior is essential for human social interactions. Recent work has exposed its cognitive complexity, as well as its unexpected reliance on portions of the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) also involved in exploration, relational reasoning, and counterfactual choice, rather than on dorsolateral and medial prefrontal areas involved in several forms of cognitive control. This study anatomically qualifies the contribution of aPFC territories to the regulation of prepotent approach-avoidance action-tendencies elicited by emotional faces, and explores a possible structural pathway through which this emotional action regulation might be implemented.We provide converging evidence from task-based fMRI, diffusion-weighted imaging, and functional connectivity fingerprints for a novel neural element in emotional regulation. Task-based fMRI in human male participants (N = 40) performing an emotional approach-avoidance task identified aPFC territories involved in the regulation of action-tendencies elicited by emotional faces. Connectivity fingerprints, based on diffusion-weighted imaging and resting-state connectivity, localized those task-defined frontal regions to the lateral frontal pole (FPl), an anatomically-defined portion of the aPFC that lacks a homologous counterpart in macaque brains. Probabilistic tractography indicated that 10-20% of inter-individual variation in emotional regulation abilities is accounted for by the strength of structural connectivity between FPl and amygdala. Evidence from an independent replication sample (N = 50; 10 females) further substantiated this result. These findings provide novel neuroanatomical evidence for incorporating FPl in models of control over human action-tendencies elicited by emotional faces.Significance statementSuccessful regulation of emotional behaviors is a prerequisite for successful participation in human society, as is evidenced by the social isolation and loss of occupational opportunities often encountered by people suffering from emotion-regulation disorders such as social-anxiety disorder and psychopathy. Knowledge about the precise cortical regions and connections supporting this control is crucial for understanding both the nature of computations needed to successfully traverse the space of possible actions in social situations, and the potential interventions that might result in efficient treatment of social-emotional disorders. This study provides evidence for a precise cortical region (FPl) and a structural pathway (the ventral amygdalofugal bundle) through which a cognitively complex form of emotional action regulation might be implemented in the human brain.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

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