Hypervigilance for fear after basolateral amygdala damage in humans

D. Terburg, B. E. Morgan, E. R. Montoya, I. T. Hooge, H. B. Thornton, A. R. Hariri, J. Panksepp, D. J. Stein, J. Van Honk

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90 Scopus citations


Recent rodent research has shown that the basolateral amygdala (BLA) inhibits unconditioned, or innate, fear. It is, however, unknown whether the BLA acts in similar ways in humans. In a group of five subjects with a rare genetic syndrome, that is, Urbach-Wiethe disease (UWD), we used a combination of structural and functional neuroimaging, and established focal, bilateral BLA damage, while other amygdala sub-regions are functionally intact. We tested the translational hypothesis that these BLA-damaged UWD-subjects are hypervigilant to facial expressions of fear, which are prototypical innate threat cues in humans. Our data indeed repeatedly confirm fear hypervigilance in these UWD subjects. They show hypervigilant responses to unconsciously presented fearful faces in a modified Stroop task. They attend longer to the eyes of dynamically displayed fearful faces in an eye-tracked emotion recognition task, and in that task recognize facial fear significantly better than control subjects. These findings provide the first direct evidence in humans in support of an inhibitory function of the BLA on the brain's threat vigilance system, which has important implications for the understanding of the amygdala's role in the disorders of fear and anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere115
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • basolateral amygdala
  • eye tracking
  • fMRI
  • fear vigilance
  • sMRI
  • urbach-wiethe disease


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