Distinct Populations of Neurons Respond to Emotional Valence and Arousal in the Human Subthalamic Nucleus

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Mar 10;112(10):3116-21. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1410709112. Epub 2015 Feb 23.


Both animal studies and studies using deep brain stimulation in humans have demonstrated the involvement of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) in motivational and emotional processes; however, participation of this nucleus in processing human emotion has not been investigated directly at the single-neuron level. We analyzed the relationship between the neuronal firing from intraoperative microrecordings from the STN during affective picture presentation in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) and the affective ratings of emotional valence and arousal performed subsequently. We observed that 17% of neurons responded to emotional valence and arousal of visual stimuli according to individual ratings. The activity of some neurons was related to emotional valence, whereas different neurons responded to arousal. In addition, 14% of neurons responded to visual stimuli. Our results suggest the existence of neurons involved in processing or transmission of visual and emotional information in the human STN, and provide evidence of separate processing of the affective dimensions of valence and arousal at the level of single neurons as well.

Keywords: arousal; basal ganglia; emotion; single neuron; subthalamic nucleus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arousal*
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / physiology*