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Nat Neurosci. 2016 Aug;19(8):1041-9. doi: 10.1038/nn.4324. Epub 2016 Jun 13.

A fast pathway for fear in human amygdala.

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Laboratory for Clinical Neuroscience, Centre for Biomedical Technology, Technical University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
CEI Campus Moncloa, UCM-UPM, Madrid, Spain.
Department of Basic Psychology I, Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
Laboratory for Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, Centre for Biomedical Technology, Technical University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
Epilepsy Unit, Department of Neurology, Hospital Ruber Internacional, Madrid, Spain.
Department of Neurosurgery, Hospital Ruber Internacional, Madrid, Spain.
Neuroscience Research Centre, Cardiovascular and Cell Sciences Institute, St. George's, University of London, London, UK.
Laboratory for Neurology and Imaging of Cognition, Department of Neuroscience and Neurology, University Hospital and Medical School, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Neuroimaging, Reina Sofia Centre for Alzheimer's Research, Madrid, Spain.


A fast, subcortical pathway to the amygdala is thought to have evolved to enable rapid detection of threat. This pathway's existence is fundamental for understanding nonconscious emotional responses, but has been challenged as a result of a lack of evidence for short-latency fear-related responses in primate amygdala, including humans. We recorded human intracranial electrophysiological data and found fast amygdala responses, beginning 74-ms post-stimulus onset, to fearful, but not neutral or happy, facial expressions. These responses had considerably shorter latency than fear responses that we observed in visual cortex. Notably, fast amygdala responses were limited to low spatial frequency components of fearful faces, as predicted by magnocellular inputs to amygdala. Furthermore, fast amygdala responses were not evoked by photographs of arousing scenes, which is indicative of selective early reactivity to socially relevant visual information conveyed by fearful faces. These data therefore support the existence of a phylogenetically old subcortical pathway providing fast, but coarse, threat-related signals to human amygdala.

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