Bidirectional Control of Social Behavior by Activity within Basolateral and Central Amygdala of Primates

J Neurosci. 2016 Aug 17;36(33):8746-56. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0333-16.2016.


Both hypoactivity and hyperactivity in the amygdala are associated with perturbations in social behavior. While >60 years of experimental manipulations of the amygdala in animal models have shown that amygdala is critical for social behavior, many of these studies contradict one another. Moreover, several questions remain unaddressed. (1) What effect does activation of amygdala have on social behavior? (2) What is the effect of transient silencing, rather than permanent damage? (3) Is there a dissociation between the roles of the central (CeA) and basolateral amygdala (BLA) in regulating social behavior? (4) Can the prosocial effects of amygdala manipulations be explained by anxiolytic effects? We focally manipulated activity within the CeA or BLA in macaques by intracerebral microinjection of muscimol (to inactivate) or bicuculline (to activate) to these amygdaloid subregions. Social interactions were observed in pairs of highly familiar monkeys. We compared these effects to those achieved with systemic diazepam. Activation of the BLA but not CeA suppressed social behavior. Inhibition of either structure increased social behavior, although the effect was greater following inhibition of the BLA. Systemic diazepam was without effect. These studies, which are the first to bidirectionally manipulate the primate amygdala for effects on social behavior, revealed that (1) the amygdala, as a critical regulator of the social network, is bidirectionally sensitive to perturbations in activity, and (2) increased sociability after amygdala inactivation cannot be solely explained by decreased fear.

Significance statement: Many previous studies reported loss of social interactions following permanent damage to the amygdala in nonhuman primates. In contrast, we report that transient inhibition of the basolateral amygdala triggered a profound increase in social interactions in dyads of monkeys highly familiar with each other. We compared these effects to those of systemic diazepam, which failed to increase social behavior. While it has been suggested that suppression of "fear" could underlie the prosocial effects of amygdala manipulations, our data strongly suggest that impairment in fear processing per se cannot account for the prosocial effects of amygdala inhibition. Furthermore, our studies are the first to examine activation of the amygdala and to assess the separate roles of the amygdaloid nuclei in social behavior in primates.

Keywords: activation; bicuculline; diazepam; inactivation; muscimol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / diagnostic imaging
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / drug effects
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / physiology*
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • Central Amygdaloid Nucleus / diagnostic imaging
  • Central Amygdaloid Nucleus / drug effects
  • Central Amygdaloid Nucleus / physiology*
  • Diazepam / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • GABA Modulators / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Microinjections
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • GABA Modulators
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Muscimol
  • Diazepam
  • Bicuculline