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Prefrontal inhibition of threat processing reduces working memory interference

Clarke, R. and Johnstone, T. (2013) Prefrontal inhibition of threat processing reduces working memory interference. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7 (228). ISSN 1662-5161

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00228

Abstract/Summary

Bottom-up processes can interrupt ongoing cognitive processing in order to adaptively respond to emotional stimuli of high potential significance, such as those that threaten wellbeing. However it is vital that this interference can be modulated in certain contexts to focus on current tasks. Deficits in the ability to maintain the appropriate balance between cognitive and emotional demands can severely impact on day-to-day activities. This fMRI study examined this interaction between threat processing and cognition; 18 adult participants performed a visuospatial working memory (WM) task with two load conditions, in the presence and absence of anxiety induction by threat of electric shock. Threat of shock interfered with performance in the low cognitive load condition; however interference was eradicated under high load, consistent with engagement of emotion regulation mechanisms. Under low load the amygdala showed significant activation to threat of shock that was modulated by high cognitive load. A directed top-down control contrast identified two regions associated with top-down control; ventrolateral PFC and dorsal ACC. Dynamic causal modeling provided further evidence that under high cognitive load, top-down inhibition is exerted on the amygdala and its outputs to prefrontal regions. Additionally, we hypothesized that individual differences in a separate, non-emotional top-down control task would predict the recruitment of dorsal ACC and ventrolateral PFC during top-down control of threat. Consistent with this, performance on a separate dichotic listening task predicted dorsal ACC and ventrolateral PFC activation during high WM load under threat of shock, though activation in these regions did not directly correlate with WM performance. Together, the findings suggest that under high cognitive load and threat, top-down control is exerted by dACC and vlPFC to inhibit threat processing, thus enabling WM performance without threat-related interference.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN)
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Neuroscience
Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience
ID Code:32692
Publisher:Frontiers Media S.A.
Publisher Statement:This document is protected by copyright and was first published by Frontiers. All rights reserved. It is reproduced with permission.

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