The role of the basolateral amygdala in the perception of faces in natural contexts


The amygdala is a complex structure that plays its role in perception and threat-related behaviour by activity of its specific nuclei and their separate networks. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated the role of the basolateral amygdala in face and context processing. Five individuals with focal basolateral amygdala damage and 12 matched controls viewed fearful or neutral faces in a threatening or neutral context. We tested the hypothesis that basolateral amygdala damage modifies the relation between face and threatening context, triggering threat-related activation in the dorsal stream. The findings supported this hypothesis. First, activation was increased in the right precentral gyrus for threatening versus neutral scenes in the basolateral amygdala damage group compared with the control group. Second, activity in the bilateral middle frontal gyrus, and left anterior inferior parietal lobule was enhanced for neutral faces presented in a threatening versus neutral scene in the group with basolateral amygdala damage compared with controls. These findings provide the first evidence for the neural consequences of basolateral amygdala damage during the processing of complex emotional situations.

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences