Camara E, Rodriguez-Fornells A, Münte TF.
Department of Neuropsychology, University of Magdeburg Magdeburg, Germany. Front Hum Neurosci. 2008;2:19.
Controversial results have been reported concerning the neural mechanisms involved in the processing of rewards and punishments. On the one hand, there is evidence suggesting that monetary gains and losses activate a similar fronto-subcortical network. On the other hand, results of recent studies imply that reward and punishment may engage distinct neural mechanisms.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we investigated both regional and interregional functional connectivity patterns while participants performed a gambling task featuring unexpectedly high monetary gains and losses. Classical univariate statistical analysis showed that monetary gains and losses activated a similar fronto-striatal-limbic network, in which main activation peaks were observed bilaterally in the ventral striatum. Functional connectivity analysis showed similar responses for gain and loss conditions in the insular cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus that correlated with the activity observed in the seed region ventral striatum, with the connectivity to the amygdala appearing more pronounced after losses. Larger functional connectivity was found to the medial orbitofrontal cortex for negative outcomes. The fact that different functional patterns were obtained with both analyses suggests that the brain activations observed in the classical univariate approach identifies the involvement of different functional networks in the current task. These results stress the importance of studying functional connectivity in addition to standard fMRI analysis in reward-related studies.