Regulation of anterior insular cortex activity using real-time fMRI

Andrea Caria, Ralf Veit, Ranganatha Sitaram, Martin Lotze, Nikolaus Weiskopf, Wolfgang Grodd, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Recent advances in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data acquisition and processing techniques have made real-time fMRI (rtfMRI) of localized brain areas feasible, reliable and less susceptible to artefacts. Previous studies have shown that healthy subjects learn to control local brain activity with operant training by using rtfMRI-based neurofeedback. In the present study, we investigated whether healthy subjects could voluntarily gain control over right anterior insular activity. Subjects were provided with continuously updated information of the target ROI's level of activation by visual feedback. All participants were able to successfully regulate BOLD-magnitude in the right anterior insular cortex within three sessions of 4 min each. Training resulted in a significantly increased activation cluster in the anterior portion of the right insula across sessions. An increased activity was also found in the left anterior insula but the percent signal change was lower than in the target ROI. Two different control conditions intended to assess the effects of non-specific feedback and mental imagery demonstrated that the training effect was not due to unspecific activations or non feedback-related cognitive strategies. Both control groups showed no enhanced activation across the sessions, which confirmed our main hypothesis that rtfMRI feedback is area-specific. The increased activity in the right anterior insula during training demonstrates that the effects observed are anatomically specific and self-regulation of right anterior insula only is achievable. This is the first group study investigating the volitional control of emotionally relevant brain region by using rtfMRI training and confirms that self-regulation of local brain activity with rtfMRI is possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1238-1246
Number of pages9
JournalNeuroImage
Volume35
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 15 2007

Keywords

  • Blood oxygen level-dependent
  • Brain-computer interface
  • Insula
  • Neurofeedback
  • Physiological regulation
  • Real-time fMRI
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology

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