Amygdalar roles during exposure to a live predator and to a predator-associated context

Neuroscience. 2011 Jan 13:172:314-28. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.10.033. Epub 2010 Oct 16.


The amygdala plays a critical role in determining the emotional significance of sensory stimuli and the production of fear-related responses. Large amygdalar lesions have been shown to practically abolish innate defensiveness to a predator; however, it is not clear how the different amygdalar systems participate in the defensive response to a live predator. Our first aim was to provide a comprehensive analysis of the amygdalar activation pattern during exposure to a live cat and to a predator-associated context. Accordingly, exposure to a live predator up-regulated Fos expression in the medial amygdalar nucleus (MEA) and in the lateral and posterior basomedial nuclei, the former responding to predator-related pheromonal information and the latter two nuclei likely to integrate a wider array of predatory sensory information, ranging from olfactory to non-olfactory ones, such as visual and auditory sensory inputs. Next, we tested how the amygdalar nuclei most responsive to predator exposure (i.e. the medial, posterior basomedial and lateral amygdalar nuclei) and the central amygdalar nucleus (CEA) influence both unconditioned and contextual conditioned anti-predatory defensive behavior. Medial amygdalar nucleus lesions practically abolished defensive responses during cat exposure, whereas lesions of the posterior basomedial or lateral amygdalar nuclei reduced freezing and increased risk assessment displays (i.e. crouch sniff and stretch postures), a pattern of responses compatible with decreased defensiveness to predator stimuli. Moreover, the present findings suggest a role for the posterior basomedial and lateral amygdalar nuclei in the conditioning responses to a predator-related context. We have further shown that the CEA does not seem to be involved in either unconditioned or contextual conditioned anti-predatory responses. Overall, the present results help to clarify the amygdalar systems involved in processing predator-related sensory stimuli and how they influence the expression of unconditioned and contextual conditioned anti-predatory responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cats
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Environment, Controlled
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Housing, Animal / standards
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar