Modulation of hypothalamus and amygdalar activation levels with stimulus valence

Neuroimage. 2010 May 15;51(1):324-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.02.029. Epub 2010 Feb 13.


In spite of long-standing evidence showing that the hypothalamus is instrumental in generating behaviors associated with positive and negative emotions, little is known about the role of the hypothalamus in normal human emotional processing. Recent findings have suggested that the hypothalamus plays a role beyond mere control of HPA-axis function; this is also supported by the existence of rich anatomical connections between the hypothalamus and the amygdala, a region known for its important role in emotional processing. However, evidence of emotion-induced hypothalamic activity from neuroimaging studies has been inconsistent, possibly due to methodological limitations (e.g., low spatial resolution). Taking advantage of recent improvements in fMRI technology we set out to explore a possible valence-dependent modulation of hypothalamic activity. Using second order parametric analysis of high-resolution BOLD fMRI, we assessed hypothalamic activation patterns during passive viewing of visual stimuli of varying valence, and compared the results with the activity pattern in the amygdalae, i.e. nuclei with known valence-dependent activity profiles. We show that both hypothalamic and amygdalar activation is modulated by the second-order stimulus valence term, i.e., there is increased neural activity following the processing of both positive and negative stimuli. Our results suggest that the hypothalamus may serve a role in generating emotions broader than generally assumed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception / physiology*


  • Oxygen