Noninvasive stimulation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex modulates emotional face processing

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Abstract

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is associated with emotional states that can be characterized as positive affect. Moreover, a variety of psychiatric disorders that are associated with disturbed reactions toward reward- or safety-signaling stimuli reveal functional or structural anomalies within this area. Thus, neuromodulation of this region via transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) offers an attractive opportunity to noninvasively influence pleasant emotional and reward processing. Recent experiments revealed hemodynamic and electrophysiological evidence for valence specific modulations of emotional scene processing after excitatory and inhibitory tDCS of the vmPFC. Here, we identified that tDCS modulation of vmPFC during emotional face processing results in effects convergent with scene processing, in that excitatory tDCS increased neural reactivity during happy compared to fearful face perception, whereas inhibitory stimulation led to a converse effect. In addition, behavioral data (affect identification of ambiguous expressive faces) revealed a bias toward preferential processing of happy compared to fearful faces after excitatory compared to after inhibitory stimulation. These results further support the vmPFC as an appropriate target for noninvasive neuromodulation of an appetitive processing network in patients suffering from disturbed cognition of reward- and safety-signaling stimuli. It should however be noted that electrophysiological pre-tDCS differences at earlier time intervals of emotional face and scene processing appeared amplified by tDCS, which remains to be investigated.

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