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J Neurosci. 2012 Jul 18;32(29):9981-91. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0669-12.2012.

Inactivation of basolateral amygdala specifically eliminates palatability-related information in cortical sensory responses.

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  • 1Program of Neuroscience, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454, USA.


Evidence indirectly implicates the amygdala as the primary processor of emotional information used by cortex to drive appropriate behavioral responses to stimuli. Taste provides an ideal system with which to test this hypothesis directly, as neurons in both basolateral amygdala (BLA) and gustatory cortex (GC)-anatomically interconnected nodes of the gustatory system-code the emotional valence of taste stimuli (i.e., palatability), in firing rate responses that progress similarly through "epochs." The fact that palatability-related firing appears one epoch earlier in BLA than GC is broadly consistent with the hypothesis that such information may propagate from the former to the latter. Here, we provide evidence supporting this hypothesis, assaying taste responses in small GC single-neuron ensembles before, during, and after temporarily inactivating BLA in awake rats. BLA inactivation (BLAx) changed responses in 98% of taste-responsive GC neurons, altering the entirety of every taste response in many neurons. Most changes involved reductions in firing rate, but regardless of the direction of change, the effect of BLAx was epoch-specific: while firing rates were changed, the taste specificity of responses remained stable; information about taste palatability, however, which normally resides in the "Late" epoch, was reduced in magnitude across the entire GC sample and outright eliminated in most neurons. Only in the specific minority of neurons for which BLAx enhanced responses did palatability specificity survive undiminished. Our data therefore provide direct evidence that BLA is a necessary component of GC gustatory processing, and that cortical palatability processing in particular is, in part, a function of BLA activity.

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