Dysregulation of behavioral and autonomic responses to emotional and social stimuli following bidirectional pharmacological manipulation of the basolateral amygdala in macaques

Neuropharmacology. 2020 Nov 15:179:108275. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2020.108275. Epub 2020 Aug 21.


The amygdala is a key component of the neural circuits mediating the processing and response to emotionally salient stimuli. Amygdala lesions dysregulate social interactions, responses to fearful stimuli, and autonomic functions. In rodents, the basolateral and central nuclei of the amygdala have divergent roles in behavioral control. However, few studies have selectively examined these nuclei in the primate brain. Moreover, the majority of non-human primate studies have employed lesions, which only allow for unidirectional manipulation of amygdala activity. Thus, the effects of amygdala disinhibition on behavior in the primate are unknown. To address this gap, we pharmacologically inhibited by muscimol or disinhibited by bicuculline methiodide the basolateral complex of the amygdala (BLA; lateral, basal, and accessory basal) in nine awake, behaving male rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). We examined the effects of amygdala manipulation on: (1) behavioral responses to taxidermy snakes and social stimuli, (2) food competition and social interaction in dyads, (3) autonomic arousal as measured by cardiovascular response, and (4) prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle (PPI) response. All modalities were impacted by pharmacological inhibition and/or disinhibition. Amygdala inhibition decreased fear responses to snake stimuli, increased examination of social stimuli, reduced competitive reward-seeking in dominant animals, decreased heart rate, and increased PPI response. Amygdala disinhibition restored fearful response after habituation to snakes, reduced competitive reward-seeking behavior in dominant animals, and lowered heart rate. Thus, both hypoactivity and hyperactivity of the basolateral amygdala can lead to dysregulated behavior, suggesting that a narrow range of activity is necessary for normal functions.

Keywords: Amygdala; Approach-avoid; Heart rate; Non-human primate; PPI; Social.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / drug effects*
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Emotions / drug effects*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Fear / drug effects
  • Fear / physiology
  • Fear / psychology
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / administration & dosage*
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Injections, Intraventricular
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Prepulse Inhibition / drug effects
  • Prepulse Inhibition / physiology
  • Snakes
  • Social Interaction / drug effects*


  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists