December 1, 2010
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.