Fear conditioning in humans: the influence of awareness and autonomic arousal on functional neuroanatomy.
The degree to which perceptual awareness of threat stimuli and bodily states of arousal modulates neural activity associated with fear conditioning is unknown. We used functional magnetic neuroimaging (fMRI) to study healthy subjects and patients with peripheral autonomic denervation to examine how the expression of conditioning-related activity is modulated by stimulus awareness and autonomic arousal. In controls, enhanced amygdala activity was evident during conditioning to both "seen" (unmasked) and "unseen" (backward masked) stimuli, whereas insula activity was modulated by perceptual awareness of a threat stimulus. Absent peripheral autonomic arousal, in patients with autonomic denervation, was associated with decreased conditioning-related activity in insula and amygdala. The findings indicate that the expression of conditioning-related neural activity is modulated by both awareness and representations of bodily states of autonomic arousal.