Heightened defensive responses following subtotal lesions of macaque orbitofrontal cortex

Maia S. Pujara, Peter H. Rudebeck, Nicole K. Ciesinski, Elisabeth A. Murray

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18 Scopus citations


Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive attention to threat. Several brain areas, including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), have been associated with threat processing, with more recent work implicating specialized roles for the medial and lateral subregions of the OFC in mediating specific symptoms of anxiety disorders. Virtually no causal work, however, has evaluated the role of these OFC subregions in regulating behavioral responses under threat. To address this gap, we compared male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) with bilateral excitotoxic lesions restricted to either the lateralOFC(lOFC), targeting Walker’s areas 11 and 13, or the medialOFC(mOFC), targeting Walker’s area 14, to a group of unoperated controls on behavioral responses to the presentation of a fake rubber snake, fake spider, and neutral stimuli. Both lesion groups showed heightened defensive and reduced approach responses, accompanied by longer latencies to retrieve a food reward, in the presence of the threatening stimuli. Compared to unoperated controls, the mOFC lesion group also showed longer latencies to reach for rewards and a greater proportion of defensive responses (e.g., piloerection) in the presence of neutral stimuli. Thus, monkeys with mOFC lesions displayed a greater tendency to express defensive responses even in the absence of threat. Overall, our data reveal that both themOFCand lOFC contribute to the attenuation of defensive responses. Notably, these findings, obtained following selective, excitotoxic lesions of the OFC, are diametrically opposed to the effects of aspiration lesions of OFC observed in macaques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4133-4141
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number21
StatePublished - 22 May 2019


  • Defense
  • Emotion
  • Fear
  • Lesion
  • Macaque
  • Orbitofrontal


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