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Neuroimage. 2005 May 15;26(1):141-8.

Pathways for fear perception: modulation of amygdala activity by thalamo-cortical systems.

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1
Neuroscience Institute of Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders (NISAD), Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia. prithad@psych.usyd.edu.au

Abstract

Effective perception of fear signals is crucial for human survival and the importance of the amygdala in this process is well documented. Animal, lesion and neuroimaging studies indicate that incoming sensory signals of fear travel from thalamus to amygdala via two neural pathways: a direct subcortical route and an indirect pathway via the sensory cortex. Other lines of research have demonstrated prefrontal modulation of the amygdala. However, no study to date has examined the prefrontal modulation of the thalamo-cortico-amygdala pathways in vivo. We used psychophysiological and physiophysiological interactions to examine the functional connectivity within thalamus, amygdala and sensory (inferior occipital, fusiform) cortices, and the modulation of these networks by the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data were acquired for 28 healthy control subjects during a fear perception task, with neutral as the 'baseline' control condition. Main effect analysis, using a region of interest (ROI) approach, confirmed that these regions are part of a distributed neural system for fear perception. Psychophysiological interactions revealed an inverse functional connectivity between occipito-temporal visual regions and the left amygdala, but a positive connectivity between these visual region and the right amygdala, suggesting that there is a hemispheric specialization in the transfer of fear signals from sensory cortices to amygdala. Physiophysiological interactions revealed a dorsal-ventral division in ACC modulation of the thalamus-sensory cortex pathway. While the dorsal ACC showed a positive modulation of this pathway, the ventral ACC exhibited an inverse relationship. In addition, both the dorsal and ventral ACC showed an inverse interaction with the direct thalamus-amygdala pathway. These findings suggest that thalamo-amygdala and cortical regions are involved in a dynamic interplay, with functional differentiation in both lateralized and ventral/dorsal gradients. Breakdowns in these interactions may give rise to affect-related symptoms seen in a range of neuropsychiatric disorders.

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