The amygdaloid nuclear complex is critical for producing appropriate emotional and behavioral responses to biologically relevant sensory stimuli. It constitutes an essential link between sensory and limbic areas of the cerebral cortex and subcortical brain regions, such as the hypothalamus, brainstem, and striatum, that are responsible for eliciting emotional and motivational responses. This review summarizes the anatomy and physiology of the cortical pathways to the amygdala in the rat, cat and monkey. Although the basic anatomy of these systems in the cat and monkey was largely delineated in studies conducted during the 1970s and 1980s, detailed information regarding the cortico-amygdalar pathways in the rat was only obtained in the past several years. The purpose of this review is to describe the results of recent studies in the rat and to compare the organization of cortico-amygdalar projections in this species with that seen in the cat and monkey. In all three species visual, auditory, and somatosensory information is transmitted to the amygdala by a series of modality-specific cortico-cortical pathways ("cascades") that originate in the primary sensory cortices and flow toward higher order association areas. The cortical areas in the more distal portions of these cascades have stronger and more extensive projections to the amygdala than the more proximal areas. In all three species olfactory and gustatory/visceral information has access to the amygdala at an earlier stage of cortical processing than visual, auditory and somatosensory information. There are also important polysensory cortical inputs to the mammalian amygdala from the prefrontal and hippocampal regions. Whereas the overall organization of cortical pathways is basically similar in all mammalian species, there is anatomical evidence which suggests that there are important differences in the extent of convergence of cortical projections in the primate versus the nonprimate amygdala.