Organization of primate amygdalar-thalamic pathways for emotions

PLoS Biol. 2020 Feb 27;18(2):e3000639. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000639. eCollection 2020 Feb.


Studies on the thalamus have mostly focused on sensory relay nuclei, but the organization of pathways associated with emotions is not well understood. We addressed this issue by testing the hypothesis that the primate amygdala acts, in part, like a sensory structure for the affective import of stimuli and conveys this information to the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus, magnocellular part (MDmc). We found that primate sensory cortices innervate amygdalar sites that project to the MDmc, which projects to the orbitofrontal cortex. As in sensory thalamic systems, large amygdalar terminals innervated excitatory relay and inhibitory neurons in the MDmc that facilitate faithful transmission to the cortex. The amygdala, however, uniquely innervated a few MDmc neurons by surrounding and isolating large segments of their proximal dendrites, as revealed by three-dimensional high-resolution reconstruction. Physiologic studies have shown that large axon terminals are found in pathways issued from motor systems that innervate other brain centers to help distinguish self-initiated from other movements. By analogy, the amygdalar pathway to the MDmc may convey signals forwarded to the orbitofrontal cortex to monitor and update the status of the environment in processes deranged in schizophrenia, resulting in attribution of thoughts and actions to external sources.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dendrites
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Mediodorsal Thalamic Nucleus / cytology
  • Mediodorsal Thalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways
  • Neurons
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Presynaptic Terminals
  • Thalamus / cytology
  • Thalamus / physiology