Unraveling the Brain’s Emotional Recognition Network: A Discovery with Therapeutic Implications


Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) researchers, led by Francesco Papaleo of the Genetics of Cognition research group, have unearthed a neural network that plays a pivotal role in recognizing emotions in both animals and humans. This groundbreaking discovery, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, opens up new avenues for developing targeted therapeutic strategies for neurodevelopmental conditions, including schizophrenia and autism.

Emotional recognition is a crucial skill for animals Brain, enabling them to effectively engage with their counterparts and boost their chances of survival. However, the neural underpinnings of this process have remained elusive, even in humans.

To shed light on this intriguing phenomenon, Papaleo’s team employed advanced techniques to identify a previously unexplored neural circuit. This circuit comprises a group of specialized neuronal cells that bridge two distinct brain regions: the prefrontal cortex and the retrosplenial cortex.

In a human experiment involving over 1,000 volunteers, participants were asked to observe faces displaying angry, happy, or neutral expressions on a screen. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to monitor their brain activity, revealing a correlation between the activation of the prefrontal cortex and retrosplenial cortex areas and the ability to recognize emotions.

Francesco Papaleo, coordinator of the Genetics of Cognition laboratory at IIT, expressed his enthusiasm about the findings, stating, “We are thrilled about these new results as they expand our knowledge of the neural circuits responsible for encoding and responding to others’ emotions. Our ultimate goal is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of these mechanisms and how they are disrupted in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Anna Monai, a researcher in the Genetics of Cognition laboratory, added, “Current treatments for neurodevelopmental conditions are not selective, affecting various neuronal populations indiscriminately. Our aim is to develop targeted therapeutic strategies that act upon specific neural circuits, thereby minimizing side effects and enhancing treatment efficacy.”


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