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Brain Behav Evol. 2006;67(4):177-87. Epub 2006 Jan 23.

Evolution of the amygdala: new insights from studies in amphibians.

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Hanse Institute for Advanced Study, Delmenhorst, Germany.


The histology of amphibian brains gives an impression of relative simplicity when compared with that of reptiles or mammals. The amphibian telencephalon is small and contains comparatively few and large neurons, which in most parts constitute a dense periventricular cellular layer. However, the view emerging from the last decade is that the brains of all tetrapods, including amphibians, share a general bauplan resulting from common ancestry and the need to perform similar vital functions. To what extent this common organization also applies to higher brain functions is unknown due to a limited knowledge of the neurobiology of early vertebrates. The amygdala is widely recognized as a brain center critical for basic forms of emotional learning (e.g., fear conditioning) and its structure in amphibians could suggest how this capacity evolved. A functional systems approach is used here to synthesize the results of our anatomical investigations of the amphibian amygdala. It is proposed that the connectivity of the amphibian telencephalon portends a capacity for multi-modal association in a limbic system largely similar to that of amniote vertebrates. One remarkable exception is the presence of new sensory-associative regions of the amygdala in amniotes: the posterior dorsal ventricular ridge plus lateral nuclei in reptiles and the basolateral complex in mammals. These presumably homologous regions apparently are capable of modulating the phylogenetically older central amygdala and allow more complex forms of emotional learning.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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