Dynamic Causal Modeling of the Prefrontal/Amygdala Network During Processing of Emotional Faces

Ronald Sladky, Andreas Hahn, Inga Lisa Karl, Nicole Geissberger, Georg S. Kranz, Martin Tik, Christoph Kraus, Daniela M. Pfabigan, Andreas Gartus, Rupert Lanzenberger, Claus Lamm, Christian Windischberger

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: The importance of the amygdala/medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) network during processing of emotional stimuli, emotional faces in particular, is well established. This premise is supported by converging evidence from animal models, human neuroanatomical results, and neuroimaging studies. However, there is missing evidence from human brain connectivity studies that the OFC and no other prefrontal brain areas such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) or ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) are responsible for amygdala regulation in the functional context of emotional face stimuli. Methods: Dynamic causal modeling of ultrahigh-field functional magnetic resonance imaging data acquired at 7 Tesla in 38 healthy subjects and a well-established paradigm for emotional face processing were used to assess the central role of the OFC to provide empirical validation for the assumed network architecture. Results: Using Bayesian model selection, it is demonstrated that indeed the OFC, and not the VLPFC and the DLPFC, downregulates amygdala activation during the emotion discrimination task. In addition, Bayesian model averaging group results were rigorously tested using bootstrapping, further corroborating these findings and providing an estimator for robustness and optimal sample sizes. Discussion: While it is true that VLPFC and DLPFC are relevant for the processing of emotional faces and are connected to the OFC, the OFC appears to be a central hub for the prefrontal/amygdala interaction. Using dynamic causal modeling (DCM), abnormal effective connectivity in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)/amygdala network has been repeatedly observed in the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders. However, it has to be considered that these findings are all based on the a priori assumption of the OFC being the central area for prefrontal control regulating amygdala activation. This is particularly important, as DCM results conditionally depend on the underlying model space used for model selection. Using Bayesian model comparison methods, it is shown that the OFC (and not the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) engages in amygdala downregulation in the context emotional face processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)670-682
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Connectivity
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2022


  • amygdala
  • DCM
  • emotions
  • faces
  • Fmri
  • orbitofrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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