State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; Laboratory of Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; Laboratory of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; Institute of Clinical Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Electronic address: [Email]
The relevance of subcortical structures for affective processing is not fully understood. Inspired by the gerbil retino-raphe pathway that has been shown to regulate affective behavior and previous human work showing that the pontine region is important for processing emotion, we asked whether well-established tracts in humans traveling between the eye and the brain stem contribute to functions beyond their conventionally understood roles. Here we report neuroimaging findings showing that optic chiasm-brain stem diffusivity predict responses reflecting perceived arousal and valence. Analyses of subsequent task-evoked connectivity further revealed that visual affective processing implicates the brain stem, particularly the pontine region at an early stage of the cascade, projecting to cortico-limbic regions in a feedforward manner. The optimal model implies that all intrinsic connections between the regions of interest are unidirectional and outwards from the pontine region. These findings suggest that affective processing implicates regions outside the cortico-limbic network. The involvement of a phylogenetically older locus in the pons that has consequences in oculomotor control may imply adaptive consequences of affect detection.