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mitter system – also involved in pain management – may play a critical role in establishing social bonds. Repeated pleasurable social interactions would thus make us crave more and hook us just like exogenous opiates. This hypothesis is difficult to prove directly in humans, but our team can quantify the availability of single neurotransmitter molecules in the brain with the help of PET. This technique enables us to radiolabel single tracer molecules with radioactive extensions. When injected into blood flow, these tracers bind with the target tissue, such as a specific neuroreceptor, and, once the radioactive nuclei decay, the resulting annihilation or photons as well as the origin of the annihilation event can be detected by PET camera. Prolonged detection enables us to quantify the target molecule’s distribution in the brain. 32 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 09

Using this technique, we have been able to measure how real-time social interaction influences the activity of the opioid neurotransmitter system in the brain: a person can interact with another individual while being PET scanned, thus providing a very realistic model for human social interaction.

Why should we care about our emotions? Emotions automatically coordinate our mental and bodily functions in a holistic fashion and they have a major influence on our wellbeing. As they have been rigged to protect us during survivalsalient episodes, emotion system dysfunctions may have catastrophic consequences for an individual. Most psychiatric disorders are associated with changes in emotional functions, but many severe somatic illnesses also

trigger profound changes in the moods and emotional response patterns of an individual. Prolonged negative emotions like anger and anxiety may be harmful to somatic health because they increase the load of the cardiovascular system and influence the immune response. Understanding the neural underpinnings of the emotion system provides the key for improving both mental and somatic health. At the individual level, understanding the basic principles of emotional functions may also radically improve wellbeing. If we correctly interpret the information our emotion system gives us about the environment, we have a better chance to improve our life and manage its daily challenges.

Lauri Nummenmaa

Profile for Aalto University

Aalto University Magazine 09  

The Aalto University Magazine issue 09 deals with questions related to health care.

Aalto University Magazine 09  

The Aalto University Magazine issue 09 deals with questions related to health care.