Central feedback of peripheral states of arousal influences motivational behavior and decision making. The sympathetic skin conductance response (SCR) is one index of autonomic arousal. The precise functional neuroanatomy underlying generation and representation of SCR during motivational behavior is undetermined, although it is impaired by discrete brain lesions to ventromedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, and parietal lobe. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity associated with spontaneous fluctuations in amplitude of SCR, and activity corresponding to generation and afferent representation of discrete SCR events. Regions that covaried with increased SCR included right orbitofrontal cortex, right anterior insula, left lingual gyrus, right fusiform gyrus, and left cerebellum. At a less stringent level of significance, predicted areas in bilateral medial prefrontal cortex and right inferior parietal lobule covaried with SCR. Generation of discrete SCR events was associated with significant activity in left medial prefrontal cortex, bilateral extrastriate visual cortices, and cerebellum. Activity in right medial prefrontal cortex related to afferent representation of SCR events. Activity in bilateral medial prefrontal lobe, right orbitofrontal cortex, and bilateral extrastriate visual cortices was common to both generation and afferent representation of discrete SCR events identified in a conjunction analysis. Our results suggest that areas implicated in emotion and attention are differentially involved in generation and representation of peripheral SCR responses. We propose that this functional arrangement enables integration of adaptive bodily responses with ongoing emotional and attentional states of the organism.
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