New perspectives on the neurophysiology of primate amygdala emerging from the study of naturalistic social behaviors.

Abstract

August 11, 2017

A major challenge of primate neurophysiology, particularly in the domain of social neuroscience, is to adopt more natural behaviors without compromising the ability to relate patterns of neural activity to specific actions or sensory inputs. Traditional approaches have identified neural activity patterns in the amygdala in response to simplified versions of social stimuli such as static images of faces. As a departure from this reduced approach, single images of faces were replaced with arrays of images or videos of conspecifics. These stimuli elicited more natural behaviors and new types of neural responses: (1) attention-gated responses to faces, (2) selective responses to eye contact, and (3) selective responses to touch and somatosensory feedback during the production of facial expressions. An additional advance toward more natural social behaviors in the laboratory was the implementation of dyadic social interactions. Under these conditions, neurons encoded similarly rewards that monkeys delivered to self and to their social partner. These findings reinforce the value of bringing natural, ethologically valid, behavioral tasks under neurophysiological scrutiny. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

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Fixations Gate Species-Specific Responses to Free Viewing of Faces in the Human and Macaque Amygdala.

Abstract

January 24, 2017

Neurons in the primate amygdala respond prominently to faces. This implicates the amygdala in the processing of socially significant stimuli, yet its contribution to social perception remains poorly understood. We evaluated the representation of faces in the primate amygdala during naturalistic conditions by recording from both human and macaque amygdala neurons during free viewing of identical arrays of images with concurrent eye tracking. Neurons responded to faces only when they were fixated, suggesting that neuronal activity was gated by visual attention. Further experiments in humans utilizing covert attention confirmed this hypothesis. In both species, the majority of face-selective neurons preferred faces of conspecifics, a bias also seen behaviorally in first fixation preferences. Response latencies, relative to fixation onset, were shortest for conspecific-selective neurons and were ∼100 ms shorter in monkeys compared to humans. This argues that attention to faces gates amygdala responses, which in turn prioritize species-typical information for further processing.

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Social determinants of eyeblinks in adult male macaques.

Abstract

December 6, 2016

Videos with rich social and emotional content elicit natural social behaviors in primates. Indeed, while watching videos of conspecifics, monkeys engage in eye contact, gaze follow, and reciprocate facial expressions. We hypothesized that the frequency and timing of eyeblinks also depends on the social signals contained in videos. We monitored the eyeblinks of four male adult macaques while they watched videos of conspecifics displaying facial expressions with direct or averted gaze. The instantaneous blink rate of all four animals decreased during videos. The temporal synchrony of blinking, however, increased in response to segments depicting appeasing or aggressive facial expressions directed at the viewer. Two of the four monkeys, who systematically reciprocated the direct gaze of the stimulus monkeys, also showed eyeblink entrainment, a temporal coordination of blinking between social partners engaged in dyadic interactions. Together, our results suggest that in macaques, as in humans, blinking depends not only on the physiological imperative to protect the eyes and spread a film of tears over the cornea, but also on several socio-emotional factors.

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Tactile stimulation of the face and the production of facial expressions activate neurons in the primate amygdala

Abstract

September 28, 2016

The majority of neurophysiological studies that explored the role of the primate amygdala in the evaluation of social signals relied on visual stimuli such as images of facial expressions. Vision, however, is not the only sensory modality that carries social signals. Both humans and non-human primates exchange emotionally meaningful social signals through touch. Indeed, social grooming in non-human primates and caressing touch in humans is critical for building lasting and reassuring social bonds. To determine the role of the amygdala in processing touch, we recorded the responses of single neurons in the macaque amygdala while we applied tactile stimuli to the face. We found that 1/3 of the recorded neurons responded to tactile stimulation. Although we recorded exclusively from the right amygdala, the receptive fields of 98% of the neurons were bilateral. A fraction of these tactile neurons were monitored during the production of facial expressions and during facial movements elicited occasionally by touch stimuli. Firing rates arising during the production of facial expressions were similar to those elicited by tactile stimulation. In a subset of cells combining tactile stimulation with facial movement further augmented the firing rates. This suggests that tactile neurons in the amygdala receive input from skin mechanoceptors that are activated by touch and by compressions and stretches of the facial skin during the contraction of the underlying muscles. Tactile neurons in the amygdala may play a role in extracting the valence of touch stimuli and/or in monitoring the facial expressions of self during social interactions.

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Oxytocin Enhances Gaze-following Responses to Videos of Natural Social Behavior in Adult Male Rhesus Monkeys.

Abstract

June 3, 2016

Gaze following is a basic building block of social behavior that has been observed in multiple species, including primates. The absence of gaze following is associated with abnormal development of social cognition, such as in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Some social deficits in ASD, including the failure to look at eyes and the inability to recognize facial expressions, are ameliorated by intranasal administration of oxytocin (IN-OT). Here we tested the hypothesis that IN-OT might enhance social processes that require active engagement with a social partner, such as gaze following. Alternatively, IN-OT may only enhance the perceptual salience of the eyes, and may not modify behavioral responses to social signals. To test this hypothesis, we presented four monkeys with videos of conspecifics displaying natural behaviors. Each video was viewed multiple times before and after the monkeys received intranasally either 50 IU of OT or saline. We found that despite a gradual decrease in attention to the repeated viewing of the same videos (habituation), IN-OT consistently increased the frequency of gaze following saccades. Further analysis confirmed that these behaviors did not occur randomly, but rather predictably in response to the same segments of the videos. These findings suggest that in response to more naturalistic social stimuli IN-OT enhances the propensity to interact with a social partner rather than merely elevating the perceptual salience of the eyes. In light of these findings, gaze following may serve as a metric for pro-social effects of oxytocin that target social action more than social perception.

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Neurons in the Monkey Amygdala Detect Eye Contact during Naturalistic Social Interactions

October 20, 2014

Abstract

Primates explore the visual world through eye-movement sequences. Saccades bring details of interest into the fovea, while fixations stabilize the image [1]. During natural vision, social primates direct their gaze at the eyes of others to communicate their own emotions and intentions and to gather information about the mental states of others [2]. Direct gaze is an integral part of facial expressions that sig- nals cooperation or conflict over resources and social status [3-6]. Despite the great importance of making and breaking eye contact in the behavioral repertoire of primates, little is known about the neural substrates that support these be- haviors. Here we show that the monkey amygdala contains neurons that respond selectively to fixations on the eyes of others and to eye contact. These "eye cells" share several features with the canonical, visually responsive neurons in the monkey amygdala; however, they respond to the eyes only when they fall within the fovea of the viewer, either as a result of a deliberate saccade or as eyes move into the fovea of the viewer during a fixation intended to explore a different feature. The presence of eyes in peripheral vision fails to activate the eye cells. These findings link the primate amygdala to eye movements involved in the exploration and selection of details in visual scenes that contain socially and emotionally salient features.

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Devaluation, But Not Reversal Learning Performance, in Young and Aged Monkeys

July 23, 2014

Abstract

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and amygdala are both necessary for decisions based on expected outcomes. Although behavioral and imaging data suggest that these brain regions are affected by advanced age, the extent to which aging alters appetitive processes coordinated by the OFC and the amygdala is unknown. In the current experiment, young and aged bonnet macaques were trained on OFC- and amygdala-dependent tasks that test the degree to which response selection is guided by reward value and can be adapted when expected outcomes change. To assess whether the structural integrity of these regions varies with levels of performance on reward devaluation and object reversal tasks, volumes of areas 11/13 and 14 of the OFC, central/medial (CM), and basolateral (BL) nuclei of the amygdala were determined from high-resolution anatomical MRIs. With age, there were significant reductions in OFC, but not CM and BL, volume. Moreover, the aged monkeys showed impairments in the ability to associate an object with a higher value reward, and to reverse a previously learned association. Interestingly, greater OFC volume of area 11/13, but not 14, was significantly correlated with an animals ability to anticipate the reward outcome associated with an object, and smaller BL volume was predictive of an animals tendency to choose a higher value reward, but volume of neither region correlated with reversal learning. Together, these data indicate that OFC volume has an impact on monkeys ability to guide choice behavior based on reward value but does not impact ability to reverse a previously learned association.

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The amygdalo-motor pathways and the control of facial expressions

March 19, 2014

Abstract

Facial expressions reflect decisions about the perceived meaning of social stimuli and the expected socio-emotional outcome of responding (or not) with a reciprocating expression. The decision to produce a facial expression emerges from the joint activity of a network of structures that include the amygdala and multiple, interconnected cortical and subcortical motor areas. Reciprocal transformations between these sensory and motor signals give rise to distinct brain states that promote, or impede the production of facial expressions. The muscles of the upper and lower face are controlled by anatomically distinct motor areas. Facial expressions engage to a different extent the lower and upper face and thus require distinct patterns of neural activity distributed across multiple facial motor areas in ventrolateral frontal cortex, the supplementary motor area, and two areas in the midcingulate cortex. The distributed nature of the decision manifests in the joint activation of multiple motor areas that initiate the production of facial expression. Concomitantly multiple areas, including the amygdala, monitor ongoing overt behaviors (the expression itself) and the covert, autonomic responses that accompany emotional expressions. As the production of facial expressions is brought into the framework of formal decision making, an important challenge will be to incorporate autonomic and visceral states into decisions that govern the receiving-emitting cycle of social signals.

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Competing molecular interactions of aPKC isoforms regulate neuronal polarity.

August 27, 2013

Abstract

Atypical protein kinase C (aPKC) isoforms ζ and λ interact with polarity complex protein Par3 and are evolutionarily conserved regulators of cell polarity. Prkcz encodes aPKC-ζ and PKM-ζ, a truncated, neuron-specific alternative transcript, and Prkcl encodes aPKC-λ. Here we show that, in embryonic hippocampal neurons, two aPKC isoforms, aPKC-λ and PKM-ζ, are expressed. The localization of these isoforms is spatially distinct in a polarized neuron. aPKC-λ, as well as Par3, localizes at the presumptive axon, whereas PKM-ζ and Par3 are distributed at non-axon-forming neurites. PKM-ζ competes with aPKC-λ for binding to Par3 and disrupts the aPKC-λ-Par3 complex. Silencing of PKM-ζ or overexpression of aPKC-λ in hippocampal neurons alters neuronal polarity, resulting in neurons with supernumerary axons. In contrast, the overexpression of PKM-ζ prevents axon specification. Our studies suggest a molecular model wherein mutually antagonistic intermolecular competition between aPKC isoforms directs the establishment of neuronal polarity.

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Amygdala lesions disrupt modulation of functional MRI activity evoked by facial expression in the monkey inferior temporal cortex.

December 26, 2012

Abstract

We previously showed that facial expressions modulate functional MRI activity in the face-processing regions of the macaque monkey's amygdala and inferior temporal (IT) cortex. Specifically, we showed that faces expressing emotion yield greater activation than neutral faces; we term this difference the "valence effect." We hypothesized that amygdala lesions would disrupt the valence effect by eliminating the modulatory feedback from the amygdala to the IT cortex. We compared the valence effects within the IT cortex in monkeys with excitotoxic amygdala lesions (n = 3) with those in intact control animals (n = 3) using contrast agent-based functional MRI at 3 T. Images of four distinct monkey facial expressions--neutral, aggressive (open mouth threat), fearful (fear grin), and appeasing (lip smack)--were presented to the subjects in a blocked design. Our results showed that in monkeys with amygdala lesions the valence effects were strongly disrupted within the IT cortex, whereas face responsivity (neutral faces > scrambled faces) and face selectivity (neutral faces > non-face objects) were unaffected. Furthermore, sparing of the anterior amygdala led to intact valence effects in the anterior IT cortex (which included the anterior face-selective regions), whereas sparing of the posterior amygdala led to intact valence effects in the posterior IT cortex (which included the posterior face-selective regions). Overall, our data demonstrate that the feedback projections from the amygdala to the IT cortex mediate the valence effect found there. Moreover, these modulatory effects are consistent with an anterior-to-posterior gradient of projections, as suggested by classical tracer studies.

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How Macaques View Familiarity and Gaze in Conspecific Faces

September 7, 2012

Abstract

The pattern of visual fixations on an image depends not only on the image content but also on the viewer's disposition and on the function (or pathology) of underlying neural circuitry. For example, human viewers display changes in viewing patterns toward face images that differ in gaze direction or in the viewer's familiarity with the face. Macaques share many face processing abilities with humans, and their neural circuitry is used to understand perception across species, yet their viewing responses to gaze and familiarity of faces is poorly understood. In this study, rhesus macaques passively viewed faces of familiar and unfamiliar conspecifics whose head-and-eye gaze was directed either toward or away from the viewing monkey. The eyes of faces were viewed more than any other feature; furthermore, familiar eyes were viewed more than unfamiliar eyes. In contrast, ears, though not as salient as eyes, were viewed about twice as often for unfamiliar faces as familiar faces. Directed-gaze eyes were fixated earlier, and for a greater proportion of saccades than were the eyes of averted-gaze faces, suggesting that mutual gaze attracts a more immediate and sustained scanning of the eyes. Ears and external features were more salient for averted, as compared with directed gaze. In general, effects were more robust (within and across subjects) for the gaze contrast than for familiarity, perhaps as a consequence of the greater image-based differences for the gaze than the familiarity stimuli used in this study.

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Videos of conspecifics elicit interactive looking patterns and facial expressions in monkeys.

March 12, 2012

Abstract

A broader understanding of the neural basis of social behavior in primates requires the use of species-specific stimuli that elicit spontaneous, but reproducible and tractable behaviors. In this context of natural behaviors, individual variation can further inform about the factors that influence social interactions. To approximate natural social interactions similar to those documented by field studies, we used unedited video footage to induce in viewer monkeys spontaneous facial expressions and looking patterns in the laboratory setting. Three adult male monkeys (Macaca mulatta), previously behaviorally and genetically (5-HTTLPR) characterized, were monitored while they watched 10 s video segments depicting unfamiliar monkeys (movie monkeys) displaying affiliative, neutral, and aggressive behaviors. The gaze and head orientation of the movie monkeys alternated between "averted" and "directed" at the viewer. The viewers were not reinforced for watching the movies, thus their looking patterns indicated their interest and social engagement with the stimuli. The behavior of the movie monkey accounted for differences in the looking patterns and facial expressions displayed by the viewers. We also found multiple significant differences in the behavior of the viewers that correlated with their interest in these stimuli. These socially relevant dynamic stimuli elicited spontaneous social behaviors, such as eye-contact induced reciprocation of facial expression, gaze aversion, and gaze following, that were previously not observed in response to static images. This approach opens a unique opportunity to understanding the mechanisms that trigger spontaneous social behaviors in humans and nonhuman primates.

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MaqFACS: A Muscle-Based Facial Movement Coding System for the Rhesus Macaque

December 2010

Abstract

Over 125 years ago, Charles Darwin suggested that the only way to fully understand the form and function of human facial expression was to make comparisons to other species. Nevertheless, it has been only recently that facial expressions in humans and related primate species have been compared using systematic, anatomically-based techniques. Through this approach, large scale evolutionary and phylogenetic analyses of facial expressions, including their homology, can now be addressed. Here, the development of a muscular-based system for measuring facial movement in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) is described based on the well-known FACS (Facial Action Coding System) and ChimpFACS. These systems describe facial movement according to the action of the underlying facial musculature, which is highly conserved across primates. The coding systems are standardized, so their use is comparable across laboratories and study populations. In the development of MaqFACS, several species differences in the facial movement repertoire of rhesus macaques were observed in comparison to chimpanzees and humans, particularly with regard to brow movements, puckering of the lips, and ear movements. These differences do not appear to be the result of constraints imposed by morphological differences in the facial structure of these three species. It is more likely that they reflect unique specializations in the communicative repertoire of each species.

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Response characteristics of basolateral and centromedial neurons in the primate amygdala.

December 1, 2010

Abstract

Based on cellular architecture and connectivity, the main nuclei of the primate amygdala are divided in two clusters: basolateral (BL) and centromedial (CM). These anatomical features suggest a functional division of labor among the nuclei. The BL nuclei are thought to be involved primarily in evaluating the emotional significance or context-dependent relevance of all stimuli, including social signals such as facial expressions. The CM nuclei appear to be involved in allocating attention to stimuli of high significance and in initiating situation-appropriate autonomic responses. The goal of this study was to determine how this division of labor manifests in the response properties of neurons recorded from these two nuclear groups. We recorded the activity of 454 single neurons from identified nuclear sites in three monkeys trained to perform an image-viewing task. The task required orienting and attending to cues that predicted trial progression and viewing images with broadly varying emotional content. The two populations of neurons showed large overlaps in neurophysiological properties. We found, however, that CM neurons show higher firing and less regular spiking patterns than BL neurons. Furthermore, neurons in the CM nuclei were more likely to respond to task events (fixation, image on, image off), whereas neurons in the BL nuclei were more likely to respond selectively to the content of stimulus images. The overlap in the physiological properties of the CM and BL neurons suggest distributed processing across the nuclear groups. The differences, therefore, appear to be a processing bias rather than a hallmark of mutually exclusive functions.

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Individual differences in Scanpaths correspond with serotonin transporter genotype and behavioral phenotype in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta)

November 16, 2009

Abstract

Scanpaths (the succession of fixations and saccades during spontaneous viewing) contain information about the image but also about the viewer. To determine the viewer-dependent factors in the scanpaths of monkeys, we trained three adult males (Macaca mulatta) to look for 3 s at images of conspecific facial expressions with either direct or averted gaze. The subjects showed significant differences on four basic scanpath parameters (number of fixations, fixation duration, saccade length, and total scanpath length) when viewing the same facial expression/gaze direction combinations. Furthermore, we found differences between monkeys in feature preference and in the temporal order in which features were visited on different facial expressions. Overall, the between-subject variability was larger than the within- subject variability, suggesting that scanpaths reflect individual preferences in allocating visual attention to various features in aggressive, neutral, and appeasing facial expressions. Individual scanpath characteristics were brought into register with the genotype for the serotonin transporter regulatory gene (5-HTTLPR) and with behavioral characteristics such as expression of anticipatory anxiety and impulsiveness/hesitation in approaching food in the presence of a potentially dangerous object.

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Behavioral triggers of skin conductance responses and their neural correlates in the primate amygdala

April 2009

Abstract

The amygdala plays a crucial role in evaluating the emotional significance of stimuli and in transforming the results of this evaluation into appropriate autonomic responses. Lesion and stimulation studies suggest involvement of the amygdala in the generation of the skin conductance response (SCR), which is an indirect measure of autonomic activity that has been associated with both emotion and attention. It is unclear if this involvement marks an emotional reaction to an external stimulus or sympathetic arousal regardless of its origin. We recorded skin conductance in parallel with single-unit activity from the right amygdala of two rhesus monkeys during a rewarded image viewing task and while the monkeys sat alone in a dimly lit room, drifting in and out of sleep. In both experimental conditions, we found similar SCR-related modulation of activity at the single-unit and neural population level. This suggests that the amygdala contributes to the production or modulation of SCRs regardless of the source of sympathetic arousal.

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Multiple perceptual strategies used by macaque monkeys for face recognition

September 12, 2008

Abstract

Successful integration of individuals in macaque societies suggests that monkeys use fast and eYcient perceptual mechanisms to discriminate between conspeciWcs. Humans and great apes use primarily holistic and conWgural, but also feature-based, processing for face recognition. The relative contribution of these processes to face recognition in monkeys is not known. We measured face recognition in three monkeys performing a visual paired comparison task. Monkey and humans faces were (1) axially rotated, (2) inverted, (3) high-pass Wltered, and (4) low-pass Wltered to isolate diVerent face processing strategies. The amount of time spent looking at the eyes, mouth, and other facial features was compared across mon- key and human faces for each type of stimulus manipula- tion. For all monkeys, face recognition, expressed as novelty preference, was intact for monkey faces that were axially rotated or spatially Wltered and was supported in general by preferential looking at the eyes, but was impaired for inverted faces in two of the three monkeys. Axially rotated, upright human faces with a full range of spatial frequencies were also recognized, however, the dis- tribution of time spent exploring each facial feature was signiWcantly diVerent compared to monkey faces. No novelty preference, and hence no inferred recognition, was observed for inverted or low-pass Wltered human faces. High-pass Wltered human faces were recognized, however, the looking pattern on facial features deviated from the pat- tern observed for monkey faces. Taken together these results indicate large diVerences in recognition success and in perceptual strategies used by monkeys to recognize humans versus conspeciWcs. Monkeys use both second- order conWgural and feature-based processing to recognize the faces of conspeciWcs, but they use primarily feature- based strategies to recognize human faces.

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Mapping the contribution of single muscles to facial movements in the Rhesus Macaque

September 3, 2008

Abstract

The rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) is the most utilized primate model in the biomedical and psychological sciences. Expressive behavior is of interest to scientists studying these animals, both as a direct variable (modeling neuropsychiatric disease, where expressivity is a primary deficit), as an indirect measure of health and welfare, and also in order to understand the evolution of communication. Here, intramuscular electrical stimulation of facial muscles was conducted in the rhesus macaque in order to document the relative contribution of each muscle to the range of facial movements and to compare the expressive function of homologous muscles in humans and macaques. Despite published accounts that monkeys possess less differentiated and less complex facial musculature, the majority of muscles previously identified in humans were stimulated successfully in the rhesus macaque and caused similar appearance changes to human facial movements. These observations suggest that the facial muscular apparatus of the monkey has extensive homology to the human face. The muscles of the human face, therefore, do not represent a significant evolutionary departure from that of monkey species. Thus, facial expressions can be compared between humans and rhesus macaques at the level of the facial musculature, facilitating the systematic investigation of comparative facial communication.

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A removable silicone elastomer seal reduces granulation tissue growth and maintains the sterility of recording chambers for primate neurophysiology.

March 30, 2008

Abstract

The maintenance of the sterility of craniotomies for serial acute neurophysiological recordings is exacting and time consuming yet is vital to the health of valuable experimental animals. We have developed a method to seal the craniotomy with surgical grade silicone elastomer (Silastic®) in a hermetically sealed chamber. Under these conditions the tissues in the craniotomy and the inside surface of the chamber remain unpopulated by bacteria. The silicone elastomer sealant retarded the growth of granulation tissue on the dura and reduced the procedures required to maintain ideal conditions for neurophysiological recordings

Facial-expression and gaze-selective responses in the monkey amygdala

May 1, 2007

Abstract

The social behavior of both human and nonhuman primates relies on specializations for the recognition of individuals, their facial expressions, and their direction of gaze [1-5]. A broad network of cortical and subcortical structures has been implicated in face processing, yet it is unclear whether co-occurring dimensions of face stimuli, such as expression and direction of gaze, are processed jointly or independently by anatomically and functionally segregated neural structures. Awake macaques were presented with a set of monkey faces displaying aggressive, neutral, and appeasing expressions with head and eyes either averted or directed. BOLD responses to these faces as compared to Fourier-phase-scrambled images revealed widespread activation of the superior temporal sulcus and inferotemporal cortex and included activity in the amygdala. The different dimen- sions of the face stimuli elicited distinct activation patterns among the amygdaloid nuclei. The basolateral amygdala, including the lateral, basal, and accessory basal nuclei, produced a stronger response for threatening than appeasing expressions. The central nucleus and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis responded more to averted than directed-gaze faces. Independent behavioral measures confirmed that faces with averted gaze were more arousing, suggesting the activity in the central nucleus may be related to attention and arousal.

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