Role of the amygdala and periaqueductal gray in anxiety and panic

Behav Brain Res. 1993 Dec 20;58(1-2):123-31. doi: 10.1016/0166-4328(93)90097-a.


The amygdala (AM) and the periaqueductal gray (PAG) represent the rostral and the caudal pole, respectively, of a longitudinally organized neural system, that is responsible for the integration of behavioral and physiological manifestations of defensive reactions against innate and learned threats. Microinjection of benzodiazepine (BZD) anxiolytics, GABAA receptor agonists or 5-HT receptor antagonists into the AM has anxiolytic effects in conflict tests and other models of conditioned fear, while similar administration of 5-HT or of a 5-HT1A receptor agonist has anxiogenic effects. On the other hand, in the test of electrical stimulation of the PAG, microinjection of 5-HT, 5-HT mimetics, or of drugs that enhance the action of endogenous 5-HT into the same brain area has an antiaversive effect, like BZD and GABAA agonists. Furthermore, microinjection of midazolam, of the NMDA receptor antagonist AP-7, or of the 5-HT1A/1B receptor blocker propranolol increased the exploration of the open arms of the elevated plus-maze, having therefore an anxiolytic effect. These results point to an inhibitory role of the GABA-BZD system in both the AM and the PAG. In contrast, 5-HT seemingly enhances conditioned fear in the AM, while inhibiting unconditioned fear in the PAG. Thus, 5-HT2/1C antagonists reportedly release punished behavior when injected into the AM, whereas they antagonized the antiaversive effect of 5-HT, zimelidine and 5-HT1A/1B receptor blockers in the PAG. Since reported clinical studies revealed that one of such compounds, ritanserin, relieves generalized anxiety but tends to aggravate panic disorder, a relationship may be established between the AM and anxiety and the PAG and panic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Panic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Periaqueductal Gray / physiopathology*