Person: Schmidt, Stephanie N. L.
Effective Connectivity of the Human Mirror Neuron System During Social Cognition
2022-08-01, Sadeghi, Sadjad, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Mier, Daniela, Hass, Joachim
The human mirror neuron system (MNS) can be considered the neural basis of social cognition. Identifying the global network structure of this system can provide significant progress in the field. In this study, we use dynamic causal modeling (DCM) to determine the effective connectivity between central regions of the MNS for the first time during different social cognition tasks. Sixty-seven healthy participants completed fMRI scanning while performing social cognition tasks, including imitation, empathy, and theory of mind. Superior temporal sulcus (STS), inferior parietal lobule (IPL), and Brodmann area 44 (BA44) formed the regions of interest for DCM. Varying different connectivity patterns, 540 models were built and fitted for each participant. By applying group-level analysis, Bayesian model selection, and Bayesian model averaging, the optimal family and model for all experimental tasks were found. For all social-cognitive processes, effective connectivity from STS to IPL and from STS to BA44 was found. For imitation, additional mutual connections occurred between STS and BA44, as well as BA44 and IPL. The results suggest inverse models in which the motor regions BA44 and IPL receive sensory information from the STS. In contrast, for imitation, a sensory-loop with an exchange of motor-to-sensory and sensory-to-motor information seems to exist.
Dynamic Causal Modeling for fMRI With Wilson-Cowan-Based Neuronal Equations
2020-11-27, Sadeghi, Sadjad, Mier, Daniela, Gerchen, Martin F., Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Hass, Joachim
Dynamic causal modeling (DCM) is an analysis technique that has been successfully used to infer about directed connectivity between brain regions based on imaging data such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Most variants of DCM for fMRI rely on a simple bilinear differential equation for neural activation, making it difficult to interpret the results in terms of local neural dynamics. In this work, we introduce a modification to DCM for fMRI by replacing the bilinear equation with a non-linear Wilson-Cowan based equation and use Bayesian Model Comparison (BMC) to show that this modification improves the model evidences. Improved model evidence of the non-linear model is shown for our empirical data (imitation of facial expressions) and validated by synthetic data as well as an empirical test dataset (attention to visual motion) used in previous foundational papers. For our empirical data, we conduct the analysis for a group of 42 healthy participants who performed an imitation task, activating regions putatively containing the human mirror neuron system (MNS). In this regard, we build 540 models as one family for comparing the standard bilinear with the modified Wilson-Cowan models on the family-level. Using this modification, we can interpret the sigmoid transfer function as an averaged f-I curve of many neurons in a single region with a sigmoidal format. In this way, we can make a direct inference from the macroscopic model to detailed microscopic models. The new DCM variant shows superior model evidence on all tested data sets.
Hyperfunctioning of the right posterior superior temporal sulcus in response to neutral facial expressions presents an endophenotype of schizophrenia
2020-07, Yan, Zhimin, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Frank, Josef, Witt, Stephanie H., Hass, Joachim, Kirsch, Peter, Mier, Daniela
Deficits in social cognition have been proposed as a marker of schizophrenia. Growing evidence suggests especially hyperfunctioning of the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in response to neutral social stimuli reflecting the neural correlates of social-cognitive impairments in schizophrenia. We characterized healthy participants according to schizotypy (n = 74) and the single-nucleotide polymorphism rs1344706 in ZNF804A (n = 73), as they represent risk variants for schizophrenia from the perspectives of personality traits and genetics, respectively. A social-cognitive fMRI task was applied to investigate the association of right pSTS hyperfunctioning in response to neutral face stimuli with schizotypy and rs1344706. Higher right pSTS activation in response to neutral facial expressions was found in individuals with increased positive (trend) and disorganization symptoms, as well as in carriers of the risk allele of rs1344706. In addition, a positive association between right–left pSTS connectivity and disorganization symptoms during neutral face processing was revealed. Although these findings warrant replication, we suggest that right pSTS hyperfunctioning in response to neutral facial expressions presents an endophenotype of schizophrenia. We assume that right pSTS hyperfunctioning is a vulnerability to perceive neutral social stimuli as emotionally or intentionally salient, probably contributing to the emergence of symptoms of schizophrenia.
The effect of ethnicity and team membership on face processing : a cultural neuroscience perspective
2019, Yan, Zhimin, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Saur, Sebastian, Kirsch, Peter, Mier, Daniela
In-ethnicity bias, as one of the in-group biases, is widespread in different cultures, interfering with cross-ethnicity communication. Recent studies have revealed that an in-ethnicity bias can be reduced by an in-team bias caused by the membership in a mixed-ethnicity team. However, the neural correlates of different in-group biases are still not clear, especially regarding possible cultural differences. A total of 44 participants (20 Chinese and 24 Germans) were recruited and completed a social categorization fMRI-task, categorizing faces according to their ethnicity and a learned team membership. Our behavioral results revealed both in-ethnicity and in-team bias in German participants, but not in Chinese participants. Our imaging results, however, showed both biases across all participants, as reflected in increased dorsal medial frontal cortex (MFC) activation for in-ethnicity, as well as in-team categorizations, while activation in ventral MFC was higher for in-ethnicity faces in Chinese participants than in the German participants. Our results highlight the importance of the dorsal MFC for in-group categorization across cultures and suggest that cultures might modulate in-group biases.
Tryptophan-enriched diet or 5-hydroxytryptophan supplementation given in a randomized controlled trial impacts social cognition on a neural and behavioral level
2021-11-04, Zamoscik, Vera, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Bravo, Rafael, Ugartemendia, Lierni, Plieger, Thomas, Rodríguez, Ana B., Reuter, Martin, Kirsch, Peter
Understanding of emotions and intentions are key processes in social cognition at which serotonin is an important neuromodulator. Its precursor is the essential amino acid tryptophan (TRP). Reduced TRP availability leads to weaker impulse control ability and higher aggression, while TRP supplementation promotes confidence. In a double-blind placebo-controlled fMRI study with 77 healthy adults, we investigated the influence of a 4 week TRP enriched diet and an acute 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) intake on two social-cognitive tasks, a moral evaluation and an emotion recognition task. With 5-HTP, immoral behavior without negative consequences was rated as more reprehensible. Additionally, during story reading, activation in insula and supramarginal gyrus was increased after TRP intake. No significant effects of TRP on emotion recognition were identified for the whole sample. Importantly, emotion recognition ability decreased with age which was for positive emotions compensated by TRP. Since the supramarginal gyrus is associated with empathy, pain and related information integration results could be interpreted as reflecting stricter evaluation of negative behavior due to better integration of information. Improved recognition of positive emotions with TRP in older participants supports the use of a TRP-rich diet to compensate for age related decline in social-cognitive processes.
fMRI adaptation reveals : The human mirror neuron system discriminates emotional valence
2020-07, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Sojer, Christian A., Hass, Joachim, Kirsch, Peter, Mier, Daniela
Our ability to infer other individuals’ emotions is central for successful social interactions. Based on the theory of embodied simulation, our mirror neuron system (MNS) provides the essential link between the observed facial configuration of another individual and our inference of that emotion by means of common neuronal activation. However, so far it is unknown, whether the MNS differentiates the valence of facial configurations.
To increase the precision of our fMRI measurement, we used an adaptation design, which allows insights into whether the same neuronal population is active for subsequent stimuli of facial configurations. 76 participants were shown congruent, or incongruent consecutive pairs of facial configurations expressing fear or happiness.
Significant activation for changes in emotional valence from adaptor to target was revealed in fusiform gyrus, superior temporal sulcus, amygdala, insula, inferior parietal lobe and Brodmann area 44. In addition, activation change was higher in superior temporal sulcus, insula and inferior frontal gyrus for a switch from happiness to fear than for fear to happiness.
Our results suggest an involvement of the MNS in valence discrimination, and a higher sensitivity of the MNS to negative than positive valence. These findings point to a role of the MNS that goes beyond the mere coding of a motor state.
Just a very expensive breathing training? : Risk of respiratory artefacts in functional connectivity-based real-time fMRI neurofeedback
2020-04-15, Weiss, Franziska, Zamoscik, Vera, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Halli, Patrick, Kirsch, Peter, Gerchen, Martin Fungisai
Real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback (rtfMRI NFB) is a promising method for targeted regulation of pathological brain processes in mental disorders. But most NFB approaches so far have used relatively restricted regional activation as a target, which might not address the complexity of the underlying network changes. Aiming towards advancing novel treatment tools for disorders like schizophrenia, we developed a large-scale network functional connectivity-based rtfMRI NFB approach targeting dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex connectivity with the striatum. In a double-blind randomized yoke-controlled single-session feasibility study with N = 38 healthy controls, we identified strong associations between our connectivity estimates and physiological parameters reflecting the rate and regularity of breathing. These undesired artefacts are especially detrimental in rtfMRI NFB, where the same data serves as an online feedback signal and offline analysis target. To evaluate ways to control for the identified respiratory artefacts, we compared model-based physiological nuisance regression and global signal regression (GSR) and found that GSR was the most effective method in our data. Our results strongly emphasize the need to control for physiological artefacts in connectivity-based rtfMRI NFB approaches and suggest that GSR might be a useful method for online data correction for respiratory artefacts.
The human mirror neuron system : a common neural basis for social cognition?
2021-05, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Hass, Joachim, Kirsch, Peter, Mier, Daniela
According to the theory of embodied simulation, mirror neurons (MN) in our brain's motor system are the neuronal basis of all social-cognitive processes. The assumption of such a mirroring process in humans could be supported by results showing that within one person the same region is involved in different social cognition tasks. We conducted an fMRI-study with 75 healthy participants who completed three tasks: imitation, empathy, and theory of mind. We analyzed the data using group conjunction analyses and individual shared voxel counts. Across tasks, across and within participants, we find common activation in inferior frontal gyrus, inferior parietal cortex, fusiform gyrus, posterior superior temporal sulcus, and amygdala. Our results provide evidence for a shared neural basis for different social-cognitive processes, indicating that interpersonal understanding might occur by embodied simulation.
Modulation of respiration pattern variability and its relation to anxiety symptoms in remitted recurrent depression
2020-07, Zamoscik, Vera, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Timm, Christina, Kuehner, Christine, Kirsch, Peter
Depression is related to default mode network (DMN) connectivity and higher respiration pattern variability (RPV). In addition, DMN connectivity and RPV are interrelated and predict a poorer clinical course of depression. The association of RPV and depression might further be boosted by anxiety levels. Aim of the present study was to investigate whether a mindfulness-based training in emotionally challenged remitted depressed participants (rMDD) leads to reduced DMN connectivity and lower RPV, and if RPV interacts with anxiety levels.
To challenge participants, sad mood was induced with keywords of personal negative life events in 49 rMDD during fMRI before and after a 4-week mindfulness-based attention training (MBAT) or progressive muscle relaxation. Respiration was measured by means of a built-in respiration belt.
After both trainings, rMDD showed no significant changes in DMN connectivity. However, MBAT was effective in reducing the RPV which was related to lower anxiety levels especially in high anxious individuals.
RPV can be influenced by training which may hint to an underlying biological pathway of training effects. Importantly, these effects seem to be associated with anxiety levels. Therefore, respiration focused training might be an important tool assisting the treatment of depression and anxiety.
Nucleus accumbens activation is linked to salience in social decision making
2019-09, Schmidt, Stephanie N. L., Fenske, Sabrina C., Kirsch, Peter, Mier, Daniela
Aberrant salience may explain hasty decision making and psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia. In healthy individuals, final decisions in probabilistic reasoning tasks are related to Nucleus accumbens (Nacc) activation. However, research investigating the Nacc in social decision making is missing. Our study aimed at investigating the role of the Nacc for social decision making and its link to (aberrant) salience attribution. 47 healthy individuals completed a novel social jumping-to-conclusion (JTC) fMRI-paradigm, showing morphed faces simultaneously expressing fear and happiness. Participants decided on the 'current' emotion after each picture, and on the 'general' emotion of series of faces. Nacc activation was stronger during final decisions than in previous trials without a decision, particularly in fear rather than happiness series. A JTC-bias was associated with higher Nacc activation for last fearful, but not last happy faces. Apparently, mechanisms underlying probabilistic reasoning are also relevant for social decision making. The pattern of Nacc activation suggests salience, not reward, drives the final decision. Based on these findings, we hypothesize that aberrant salience might also explain social-cognitive deficits in schizophrenia.