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Keywords:

  • fMRI;
  • emotion;
  • brain development;
  • maturation;
  • limbic system;
  • cingulate cortex

Abstract

Neuroimaging research examining correlates of adolescent behavioral maturation has focused largely on issues related to higher cognitive development. Currently few studies have explored neural correlates of emotional reactivity in adolescent groups. In this study, we sought to examine the nature of posterior cingulate activation during situations of moral dilemma in normal adolescents. We focused on this region because of emerging evidence that suggests its role in emotionally self-relevant mental processing. Ten healthy teenagers, aged from 14 to 16 years, underwent three fMRI sequences designed to examine (i) brain responses during moral dilemma; (ii) brain responses during passive viewing of the moral dilemma outcome; and (iii); “deactivation” during a simple cognitive task compared with resting-state activity. Our main finding was that during moral dilemma, all subjects showed significant activation of the posterior cingulate cortex, and more variable activation of the medial frontal cortex and angular gyrus. Interestingly, these findings were replicated in each subject using the passive viewing task, suggesting that the previous pattern was not specific to moral reasoning or decision making. Finally, six of the ten subjects showed deactivation of the same posterior cingulate region during the cognitive task, indicating some commonality of function between posterior cingulate activity during moral dilemmas and rest. We propose that these posterior cingulate changes may relate to basic neuronal activities associated with processing self-relevant emotional stimuli. Given the high single-subject reproducibility of posterior cingulate activations, our findings may contribute to further characterize adolescent emotional reactivity in developmental neuroimaging studies. Hum Brain Mapp, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.