Conflict monitoring mechanism at the single-neuron level in the human ventral anterior cingulate cortex

Neuroimage. 2018 Jul 15:175:45-55. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.03.028. Epub 2018 Mar 15.


Life requires monitoring and adjusting behavior in the face of conflicts. The conflict monitoring theory implicates the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in these processes; its ventral aspect (vACC) specializes in emotional conflict. To elucidate the underpinning neural mechanism, we recorded vACC extracellular activity from 12 patients with mood disorders or epilepsy who performed the face-emotional Stroop task. Behaviorally, both conflict detection and adaptation to conflict were evident. The firing rate of neurons in the vACC represented current conflict, i.e., current-congruency. The late onset of the effect is compatible with a role in monitoring. Additionally, early responses of some neurons represented the immediate history of conflicts, i.e., previous-trial-congruency. Finally, in some neurons the response to the current-trial was modulated by previous-trial-congruency, laying the ground for adjusting-to-conflicts. Our results uncover a single neuron level mechanism in the vACC that encodes and integrates past and present emotional conflicts, allowing humans to accommodate their responses accordingly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Bipolar Disorder / physiopathology
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Deep Brain Stimulation
  • Electrocorticography / methods*
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Epilepsy / diagnostic imaging
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Stroop Test