Amygdala selectively modulates defensive responses evoked from the superior colliculus in non-human primates

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Dec;11(12):2009-2019. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw111. Epub 2016 Aug 10.


Brain circuitry underlying defensive behaviors includes forebrain modulatory sites, e.g. the amygdala and hypothalamus, and midbrain effector regions, such as the deep/intermediate layers of the superior colliculus (DLSC). When disinhibited, this network biases behavior towards reflexive defense reactions. While well characterized in rodent models, little is known about this system in the primate brain. Employing focal pharmacological manipulations, we have previously shown that activation of the DLSC triggers reflexive defensive responses, including cowering, escape behaviors and defensive vocalizations. Here, we show that activation of the DLSC also disrupts normal dyadic social interactions between familiar pairs of monkeys. When the basolateral complex of the amygdala (BLA) was inhibited concurrent with DLSC activation, cowering behavior was attenuated, whereas escape behaviors and defensive vocalizations were not. Moreover, inhibition of the BLA, previously shown to produce a profound increase in dyadic social interactions, was unable to normalize the decrease in social behavior resulting from DLSC activation. Together these data provide an understanding of forebrain-midbrain interactions in a species and circuit with translational relevance for the psychiatry of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Keywords: macaque; microinjection; tectum.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / drug effects
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Bicuculline / analogs & derivatives
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • Female
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Male
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Superior Colliculi / drug effects
  • Superior Colliculi / physiopathology*


  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Muscimol
  • bicuculline methiodide
  • Bicuculline