Concurrent amygdalar and ventromedial prefrontal cortical responses during emotion processing: a meta-analysis of the effects of valence of emotion and passive exposure versus active regulation

Brain Struct Funct. 2020 Jan;225(1):345-363. doi: 10.1007/s00429-019-02007-3. Epub 2019 Dec 20.


Anatomically interconnected, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and amygdala interact in emotion processing. However, no meta-analyses have focused on studies that reported concurrent vmPFC and amygdala activities. With activation likelihood estimation (ALE) we examined 100 experiments that reported concurrent vmPFC and amygdala activities, and distinguished responses to positive vs. negative emotions and to passive exposure to vs. active regulation of emotions. We also investigated whole-brain experiments for other regional activities. ALE and contrast analyses identified convergent anterior and posterior vmPFC response to passive positive and negative emotions, respectively, and a subregion in between to mixed emotions. A smaller area in the posterior ventral vmPFC is specifically involved in regulation of negative emotion. Whereas bilateral amygdala was involved during emotional exposure, only the left amygdala showed convergent activities during active regulation of negative emotions. Whole-brain analysis showed convergent activity in left ventral striatum for passive exposure to positive emotions and downregulation of negative emotions, and in the posterior cingulate cortex and ventral precuneus for passive exposure to negative emotions. These findings highlight contrasting, valence-specific subregional vmPFC as well as other regional responses during passive exposure to emotions. The findings also suggest that hyperactivation of the vmPFC is associated with diminished right amygdala activities during regulation of negative emotions. Together, the findings extend the literature by specifying the roles of subregional vmPFC and amygdala activities in emotion processing.

Keywords: Amygdala; Emotion processing; Emotion regulation; Meta-analysis; fMRI; vmPFC.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Emotional Regulation / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*