An intra-amygdala circuit specifically regulates social fear learning

Nat Neurosci. 2017 Mar;20(3):459-469. doi: 10.1038/nn.4481. Epub 2017 Jan 23.


Adaptive social behavior requires transmission and reception of salient social information. Impairment of this reciprocity is a cardinal symptom of autism. The amygdala is a critical mediator of social behavior and is implicated in social symptoms of autism. Here we found that a specific amygdala circuit, from the lateral nucleus to the medial nucleus (LA-MeA), is required for using social cues to learn about environmental cues that signal imminent threats. Disruption of the LA-MeA circuit impaired valuation of these environmental cues and subsequent ability to use a cue to guide behavior. Rats with impaired social guidance of behavior due to knockout of Nrxn1, an analog of autism-associated gene NRXN, exhibited marked LA-MeA deficits. Chemogenetic activation of this circuit reversed these impaired social behaviors. These findings identify an amygdala circuit required to guide emotional responses to socially significant cues and identify an exploratory target for disorders associated with social impairments.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Corticomedial Nuclear Complex / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Fear / physiology
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology
  • Social Behavior*


  • Nrxn1 protein, rat
  • Receptors, Cell Surface