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The anterior insula channels prefrontal expectancy signals during affective processing

By Vanessa Teckentrup, Johan N. van der Meer, Viola Borchardt, Yan Fan, Monja P. Neuser, Claus Tempelmann, Luisa Herrmann, Martin Walter, Nils B. Kroemer

Posted 04 Feb 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/536300 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.06.041)

Expectancy shapes our perception of impending events. Although such an interplay between cognitive and affective processes is often impaired in mental disorders, it is not well understood how top-down expectancy signals modulate future affect. We therefore track the information flow in the brain during cognitive and affective processing segregated in time using task-specific cross-correlations. Participants in two independent fMRI studies (N1 = 37 & N2 = 55) were instructed to imagine a situation with affective content as indicated by a cue, which was then followed by an emotional picture congruent with expectancy. To correct for intrinsic covariance of brain function, we calculate resting-state cross-correlations analogous to the task. First, using factorial modeling of delta cross-correlations (task-rest) of the first study, we find that the magnitude of expectancy signals in the anterior insula cortex (AIC) modulates the BOLD response to emotional pictures in the anterior cingulate and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in opposite directions. Second, using hierarchical linear modeling of lagged connectivity, we demonstrate that expectancy signals in the AIC indeed foreshadow this opposing pattern in the prefrontal cortex. Third, we replicate the results in the second study using a higher temporal resolution, showing that our task-specific cross-correlation approach robustly uncovers the dynamics of information flow. We conclude that the AIC arbitrates the recruitment of distinct prefrontal networks during cued picture processing according to triggered expectations. Taken together, our study provides new insights into neuronal pathways channeling cognition and affect within well-defined brain networks. Better understanding of such dynamics could lead to new applications tracking aberrant information processing in mental disorders.

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