Dynamic neural activity recorded from human amygdala during fear conditioning using magnetoencephalography. Academic Article uri icon


  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG) was used to record the dynamics of amygdala neuronal population activity during fear conditioning in human participants. Activation during conditioning training was compared to habituation and extinction sessions. Conditioned stimuli (CS) were visually presented geometric figures, and unconditioned stimuli (US) were aversive white-noise bursts. The CS+ was paired with the US on 50% of presentations and the CS- was never paired. The precise temporal resolution of MEG allowed us to address the issue of whether the amygdala responds to the onset or offset of the CS+, and/or the expectation of the initiation or offset of the an omitted auditory US. Fear conditioning elicited differential amygdala activation for the unpaired CS+ compared to the CS-, extinction and habituation. This was especially robust in the right hemisphere at CS onset. The strongest peaks of amygdala activity occurred at an average of 270 ms in the right and 306 ms in the left hemisphere following unpaired CS+ onset, and following offset at 21 ms in the left and 161 ms in the right (corresponding to an interval of 108 ms and 248 ms after the anticipated onset of the US, respectively). However, the earliest peaks in this epoch preceded US onset in most subjects. Thus, the activity dynamics suggest that the amygdala both differentially responds to stimuli and anticipates the arrival of stimuli based on prior learning of contingencies. The amygdala also shows stimulus omission-related activation that could potentially provide feedback about experienced stimulus contingencies to modify future responding during learning and extinction.

publication date

  • March 2007