Brain Stimulation May Help Improve Emotional Regulation

By Reuters Staff

December 29, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) could boost the effectiveness of strategies for improving emotional regulation, according to new findings.

Study participants who underwent TMS targeting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) or the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPC) experienced fewer negative emotions when using appraisal or distraction compared with those who underwent sham TMS, Dr. Jun Zhao of Shenzhen University in China and colleagues found.

"Our findings have potential clinical implications, paving the way for future clinicians to be able to accurately target specific brain regions among patients struggling with impaired social cognition abilities, including those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety disorder, and depression," they conclude in The Journal of Neuroscience.

The DLPFC and VLPC play key roles in emotional regulation, the authors note. These brain structures are also involved in appraisal and distraction, two emotion management techniques. Poor regulation of social pain has been implicated in many psychiatric disorders, they add.

Dr. Zhao and colleagues randomly assigned 45 men and 45 women to active or sham TMS of the DLPFC or VLPFC, and then instructed them to use distraction or reappraisal to address any negative emotions that emerged after they viewed pictures of people being socially excluded.

People reported significantly fewer negative feelings during reappraisal and distraction, compared to when they didn't try to regulate their emotions. Study participants who underwent DLPFC or VLPC stimulation also had fewer negative feelings than those who had sham TMS.

There was also significant interaction between TMS and regulation strategies, Dr. Zhao and colleagues found. The effects of DLPFC/VLPC stimulation lasted for up to an hour.

"Our findings have some potential implications for clinical practice; that is, the right VLPFC/DLPFC regions are valid, and possibly the most direct brain targets, for the treatment of socially-based emotional dysregulation," they write.

"However. we should have a cautious attitude towards the translation of the current finding to a clinical context, because this study only examined healthy people and the prolonged-effect of one hour is far from enough in clinics," they add. "Future studies should test the prolonged-effect in clinical patients and try to establish multiple-session protocols so as to maintain these TMS-induced neural plastic changes over a longer term."

The study did not have commercial funding.

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3rjGy34 The Journal of Neuroscience, online December 21, 2020.

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