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Journal Article

Opposing roles for amygdala and vmPFC in the return of appetitive conditioned responses in humans


Schlagenhauf,  Florian
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Germany;
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Ebrahimi, C., Koch, S. P., Pietrock, C., Fydrich, T., Heinz, A., & Schlagenhauf, F. (2019). Opposing roles for amygdala and vmPFC in the return of appetitive conditioned responses in humans. Translational Psychiatry, 9: 148. doi:10.1038/s41398-019-0482-x.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-B636-3
Learning accounts of addiction and obesity emphasize the persistent power of Pavlovian reward cues to trigger craving and increase relapse risk. While extinction can reduce conditioned responding, Pavlovian relapse phenomena—the return of conditioned responding following successful extinction—challenge the long-term success of extinction-based treatments. Translational laboratory models of Pavlovian relapse could therefore represent a valuable tool to investigate the mechanisms mediating relapse, although so far human research has mostly focused on return of fear phenomena. To this end we developed an appetitive conditioning paradigm with liquid food rewards in combination with a 3-day design to investigate the return of appetitive Pavlovian responses and the involved neural structures in healthy subjects. Pavlovian conditioning (day 1) was assessed in 62 participants, and a subsample (n = 33) further completed extinction (day 2) and a reinstatement test (day 3). Conditioned responding was assessed on explicit (pleasantness ratings) and implicit measures (reaction time, skin conductance, heart rate, startle response) and reinstatement effects were further evaluated using fMRI. We observed a return of conditioned responding during the reinstatement test, evident by enhanced skin conductance responses, accompanied by enhanced BOLD responses in the amygdala. On an individual level, psychophysiological reinstatement intensity was significantly anticorrelated with ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) activation, and marginally anticorrelated with enhanced amygdala-vmPFC connectivity during late reinstatement. Our results extend evidence from return of fear phenomena to the appetitive domain, and highlight the role of the vmPFC and its functional connection with the amygdala in regulating appetitive Pavlovian relapse.