May 1, 2007
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.