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Article
Nature Neuroscience  4, 437 - 441 (2001)
doi:10.1038/86110

Activation of the left amygdala to a cognitive representation of fear

Elizabeth A. Phelps1, Kevin J. O'Connor2, J. Christopher Gatenby3, John C. Gore3, Christian Grillon4 & Michael Davis5

1  Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, 8th Floor, New York, New York 10003, USA

2  Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, NE20-439, 77 Massachussetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachussetts 02139, USA

3  Department of Radiology, Yale School of Medicine, PO Box 208042, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8042, USA

4  National Institue of Mental Health, 9000 Rockville Drive, Room 3N212, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA

5  Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, 1639 Pierce Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA

Correspondence should be addressed to Elizabeth A. Phelps liz.phelps@nyu.edu
We examined the neural substrates involved when subjects encountered an event linked verbally, but not experientially, to an aversive outcome. This instructed fear task models a primary way humans learn about the emotional nature of events. Subjects were told that one stimulus (threat) represents an aversive event (a shock may be given), whereas another (safe) represents safety (no shock will be given). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), activation of the left amygdala was observed in response to threat versus safe conditions, which correlated with the expression of the fear response as measured by skin conductance. Additional activation observed in the insular cortex is proposed to be involved in conveying a cortical representation of fear to the amygdala. These results suggest that the neural substrates that support conditioned fear across species have a similar but somewhat different role in more abstract representations of fear in humans.

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Nature Neuroscience
ISSN: 1097-6256
EISSN: 1546-1726
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