Behavioral and hormonal reactivity to threat: effects of selective amygdala, hippocampal or orbital frontal lesions in monkeys

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2008 Aug;33(7):926-41. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.04.012. Epub 2008 Jul 22.


We compared the effects of bilateral amygdala, hippocampal or orbital frontal cortex lesions on emotional and hormonal reactivity in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Experiment 1 measured behavioral reactivity to an unfamiliar human intruder before and after surgery. Animals with amygdala lesions demonstrated decreases in one passive defensive behavior (freezing), whereas animals with hippocampal lesions showed decreases in a more stimulus-directed defensive behavior (tooth grinding). Orbital frontal cortex lesions also reduced these two defensive behaviors, as well as decreased cage-shaking dominance displays. Animals with amygdala, hippocampal or sham lesions also demonstrated increased tension-related behaviors after surgery, but those with orbital frontal lesions did not. Finally, all three lesions diminished the operated animals' ability to modulate tension-related behaviors depending on the magnitude of threat posed by the human intruder. Experiment 2 measured circulating levels of cortisol and testosterone when a subset of these same animals was at rest and following physical restraint, temporary isolation, exposure to threatening objects and social interactions with an unfamiliar conspecific. None of the lesions impacted on testosterone levels in any condition. Amygdala or orbital frontal lesions blunted cortisol reactivity during isolation from peers, but not during any other condition. Hippocampal lesions did not alter circulating levels of cortisol under any condition. These results indicate that the amygdala, hippocampus and orbital frontal cortex play distinct, yet complimentary roles in coordinating emotional and hormonal reactivity to threat.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Amygdala / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Orbital Diseases / pathology
  • Orbital Diseases / physiopathology*


  • Hydrocortisone