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Connectivity analyses of the neural networks underlying cognition and emotion interactions and their modulation by anxiety and common genetic polymorphisms


Recent advances in functional neuro-imaging have included
- the development of sophisticated connectivity techniques to study factors impacting upon the connectivity between different neural regions at the same time point and with varying temporal delays and
- the recognition that fMRI can be used to study the neural correlates of individual differences in healthy participants, such as variations in trait anxiety and genetic variations resulting from common functional polymorphisms in genes influencing neurotransmission.

The current proposal brings together these advances by using recent connectivity techniques to study the interaction between attentional and emotional networks and to address how differing task demands, individual anxiety levels and genetic factors influence patterns of connectivity between the neural regions that comprise these networks.

Specifically, the proposed work will test predictions derived from current models of attention and cognitive control and examine factors determining the connectivity between neural regions implicated in the control of task-related behaviour (in particular lateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex) and the detection of emotionally salient stimuli (especially the amygdala). In particular, the extent to which connectivity patterns vary with individuals anxiety levels and with COMT val 158 met and 5HTT-LPR genotypes will be addressed.

It is predicted that COMT val 158 met genotype through its influence on prefrontal dopamine will particularly impact on activity within the network of cortical regions implicated in cognitive control while the 5HTT-LPR genotype through its impact on serotonin levels will particularly influence a subcortical network focused on the amygdala and involved in the detection of emotionally salient stimuli. Anxiety is expected to modulate both networks with trait and state anxiety having differential effects upon each.

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