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Controlling attention to emotional stimuli: a combined functional neuroimaging and functional genomics approach


Problems in controlling attention to negative and positive stimuli have been associated with anxiety disorders and addiction, respectively. Few studies have attempted to delineate the neural mechanisms underlying attentional control over emotional stimuli.

The first phase of the proposed research has two main objectives:
1) to investigate the involvement of lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) and anterior cingulated cortex (ACC) in the 'top-down' control of attention over emotional stimuli;
2) to investigate the role of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens in the processing of negative and positive stimuli and in the 'bottom up' modulation of attention by emotional stimuli.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies varying the valence and intensity of distracting stimuli and the attentional demands of the primary task will examine the factors influencing recruitment of these neural structures. Two combined fMRI/functional genomic studies will examine whether genetic polymorphisms associated with alterations in central monoamine activity influence recruitment of the neural circuitry underlying attentional control over emotional stimuli. Participants will be split into groups according to their COMT Val158 Met and 5-HTTLPR genotypes.

Here, the objectives a re to establish whether:
1) the COMT Val158 Met polymorphism influences recruitment of LPFC and ACC mechanisms supporting the `top-down¿ regulation of attention and
2) the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism influences amygdala activation associated with the 'bottom-up' modulation of attention by emotional stimuli.

Integrating genetic and cognitive neuroscience methodologies to examine neuro-cognitive mechanisms of relevance to anxiety and addiction is in line with the FP6 Call: 'Life Sciences, Genomics and Biotechnology for Health'. Research in this specific area is at an early stage - this project will both promote European excellence in this field and aid my career, helping me obtain the training needed for independence.

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20 Park Crescent
United Kingdom

Participants (1)

United States
Green Hall Princeton University