Targeting dynamic facial processing mechanisms in superior temporal sulcus using a novel fMRI neurofeedback target

Bruno Direito, Joao Lima, Marco Simoes, Alexandre Sayal, Teresa Sousa, Michael Luhrs, Carlos Ferreira, Miguel Castelo-Branco*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The superior temporal sulcus (STS) encompasses a complex set of regions involved in a wide range of cognitive functions. To understand its functional properties, neuromodulation approaches such brain stimulation or neurofeedback can be used. We investigated whether the posterior STS (pSTS), a core region in the face perception and imagery network, could be specifically identified based on the presence of dynamic facial expressions (and not just on simple motion or static face signals), and probed with neurofeedback. Recognition of facial expressions is critically impaired in autism spectrum disorder, making this region a relevant target for future clinical neurofeedback studies. We used a stringent localizer approach based on the contrast of dynamic facial expressions against static neutral faces plus moving dots. The target region had to be specifically responsive to dynamic facial expressions instead of meremotion and/or the presence of a static face. The localizer was successful in selecting this region across subjects. Neurofeedback was then performed, using this region as a target, with two novel feedback rules (mean or derivative-based, using visual or auditory interfaces). Our results provide evidence that a facial expression-selective cluster in pSTS can be identified and may represent a suitable target for neurofeedback approaches, aiming at social and emotional cognition. These findings highlight the presence of a highly selective region in STS encoding dynamic aspects of facial expressions. Future studies should elucidate its role as a mechanistic target for neurofeedback strategies in clinical disorders of social cognition such as autism. (C) 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of IBRO.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-108
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2019


  • real time fMRI
  • neurofeedback
  • posterior superior temporal sulcus
  • selective feature processing
  • dynamic facial expressions
  • MIND


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