Flow of information for emotions through temporal and orbitofrontal pathways

J Anat. 2007 Aug;211(2):237-49. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2007.00777.x. Epub 2007 Jul 17.


The posterior orbitofrontal cortex, anterior temporal sensory association areas and the amygdala have a key role in emotional processing and are robustly interconnected. By analogy with the pattern of connections in early processing sensory areas, anterior temporal sensory and polymodal association cortices send primarily feedforward projections to posterior orbitofrontal cortex and to the amygdala originating in the supragranular layers, in pathways that may provide signals about the external environment. The amygdala innervates all layers of the posterior orbitofrontal cortex, including the middle, or feedforward, target layers, in a pathway that may convey information about emotional context. The posterior orbitofrontal cortex targets dual systems in the amygdala which have opposite effects on central autonomic structures. Both pathways originate in posterior orbitofrontal cortex, but one targets heavily the inhibitory intercalated masses, whose activation can ultimately disinhibit central autonomic structures during emotional arousal. The other pathway innervates the central nucleus of the amygdala, and can lead to downstream inhibition of central autonomic structures, resulting in autonomic homeostasis. The choice of pathway may depend on emotional context, and probably involves other prefrontal areas, including lateral prefrontal areas, which have executive functions. Lateral prefrontal cortices issue feedforward projections that target layer 5 of orbitofrontal cortex, which is the chief output layer to the amygdala. These laminar-specific pathways suggest sequential and collaborative interactions in evaluating the sensory and emotional aspects of the environment for decision and action in complex behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Primates
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*