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Neuroscience. 2008 Oct 15;156(3):450-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.07.066. Epub 2008 Aug 12.

The human amygdala is involved in general behavioral relevance detection: evidence from an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging Go-NoGo task.

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TOP Project, Psychosis Research Section, Division of Psychiatry, Building 49, Ulleval University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.


The amygdala is classically regarded as a detector of potential threat and as a critical component of the neural circuitry mediating conditioned fear responses. However, it has been reported that the human amygdala responds to multiple expressions of emotions as well as emotionally neutral stimuli of a novel, uncertain or ambiguous nature. Thus, it has been proposed that the function of the amygdala may be of a more general art, i.e. as a detector of behaviorally relevant stimuli [Sander D, Grafman J, Zalla T (2003) The human amygdala: an evolved system for relevance detection. Rev Neurosci 14:303-316]. To investigate this putative function of the amygdala, we used event related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a modified Go-NoGo task composed of behaviorally relevant and irrelevant letter and number stimuli. Analyses revealed bilateral amygdala activation in response to letter stimuli that were behaviorally relevant as compared with letters with less behavioral relevance. Similar results were obtained for relatively infrequent NoGo relevant stimuli as compared with more frequent Go stimuli. Our findings support a role for the human amygdala in general detection of behaviorally relevant stimuli.

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