The amygdala is a cluster of nuclei in the brain that is often associated with the "fight-or-flight" response and emotional reactions. It is part of the limbic system, and is known to be involved in assigning value, both positive and negative, to stimuli;additionally, it has more recently been implicated in attention. Much of the work regarding the role of the amygdala in assigning motivational significance to stimuli was completed in the laboratory of Daniel Salzman at Columbia University. Recent experiments in the lab have used tasks in which multiple motivationally significant cues are shown simultaneously, with one cue being associated with a more valuable outcome than the other, in order to bias spatial attention to the location of the more valuable cue. Although it is not surprising that behavioral data show that atention is biased to the more valuable cue, neurophysiological data recorded from the amygdala during this task also show that not only does the amygdala encode motivational significance, but it also encodes a spatial signal. These data were unexpected, as the amygdala has not been thought of as a spatial area, and they raise fundamental questions about the role of amygdala neurons in spatial processing. This proposal seks to address these questions, such as under what circumstances amygdala neurons become spatially selective!
Neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia are often characterized by the patient's inability to evaluate stimuli and properly attribute attention to emotionally relevant stimuli. The amygdala has been established as having a role in emotional processing, and dysfunction in this brain area is believed to play a role in the disorders above. Here, I aim to elucidate how information about spatial location and value influence activity in the amygdala and how the resulting signal might be used to guide attention towards valuable stimuli.
|Peck, Ellen L; Peck, Christopher J; Salzman, C Daniel (2014) Task-dependent spatial selectivity in the primate amygdala. J Neurosci 34:16220-33|