Regulation of conditioned responses of basolateral amygdala neurons

Physiol Behav. 2002 Dec;77(4-5):489-93. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9384(02)00909-5.


The basolateral amygdala (BLA) is a component of a system that drives and modulates affective behavior. Some forms of affective behavior are regulated by the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and enhanced by dopamine (DA). By using intracellular and extracellular electrophysiological techniques in anesthetized rats, our studies attempt to uncover cellular mechanisms that allow for regulation of affect by PFC-induced inhibition of BLA output and plasticity, as well as mechanisms by which DA enhances affective behavior via modulation of BLA neuronal excitability, afferent input and plasticity. We have found that stimulation of medial PFC (mPFC) results in a profound inhibition of BLA output, manifest as a suppression of spontaneous, intracellular current-driven or sensory cortical afferent-driven spike firing of BLA projection neurons. This inhibition is mediated by excitation of GABAergic interneurons of the BLA. Activation of DA receptors attenuates this inhibitory action of the mPFC, while enhancing other (i.e., sensory-related) inputs by increases in postsynaptic excitability of BLA projection neurons. Furthermore, Pavlovian conditioning procedures that pair an odor with a footshock result in enhanced odor-evoked postsynaptic potentials. This plasticity of odor-evoked responses is blocked by antagonism of DA receptors and by stimulation of mPFC. Our data indicate that the mPFC exerts regulatory control over BLA via suppression of spontaneous and sensory-driven activity, as well as BLA plasticity. Activation of DA receptors suppresses the inhibitory influence of the mPFC, allowing sensory-driven BLA activity and plasticity. Functionally, in the presence of high DA levels, which suppresses mPFC-evoked inhibition, one source of affective control will be dampened. Furthermore, sensory-related inputs will be further enhanced by the increased excitability of BLA neurons. This situation is expected to maximize affective responses to sensory stimuli, as well as plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology


  • Dopamine