The amygdala modulates the consolidation of memories of emotionally arousing experiences

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2004:27:1-28. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144157.


Converging findings of animal and human studies provide compelling evidence that the amygdala is critically involved in enabling us to acquire and retain lasting memories of emotional experiences. This review focuses primarily on the findings of research investigating the role of the amygdala in modulating the consolidation of long-term memories. Considerable evidence from animal studies investigating the effects of posttraining systemic or intra-amygdala infusions of hormones and drugs, as well as selective lesions of specific amygdala nuclei, indicates that (a) the amygdala mediates the memory-modulating effects of adrenal stress hormones and several classes of neurotransmitters; (b) the effects are selectively mediated by the basolateral complex of the amygdala (BLA); (c) the influences involve interactions of several neuromodulatory systems within the BLA that converge in influencing noradrenergic and muscarinic cholinergic activation; (d) the BLA modulates memory consolidation via efferents to other brain regions, including the caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, and cortex; and (e) the BLA modulates the consolidation of memory of many different kinds of information. The findings of human brain imaging studies are consistent with those of animal studies in suggesting that activation of the amygdala influences the consolidation of long-term memory; the degree of activation of the amygdala by emotional arousal during encoding of emotionally arousing material (either pleasant or unpleasant) correlates highly with subsequent recall. The activation of neuromodulatory systems affecting the BLA and its projections to other brain regions involved in processing different kinds of information plays a key role in enabling emotionally significant experiences to be well remembered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Glucocorticoids / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Norepinephrine / physiology


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Acetylcholine
  • Norepinephrine