Emotional visual stimuli evoke enhanced responses in the visual cortex. To test whether this reflects modulatory influences from the amygdala on sensory processing, we used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in human patients with medial temporal lobe sclerosis. Twenty-six patients with lesions in the amygdala, the hippocampus or both, plus 13 matched healthy controls, were shown pictures of fearful or neutral faces in task-releant or task-irrelevant positions on the display. All subjects showed increased fusiform cortex activation when the faces were in task-relevant positions. Both healthy individuals and those with hippocampal damage showed increased activation in the fusiform and occipital cortex when they were shown fearful faces, but this was not the case for individuals with damage to the amygdala, even though visual areas were structurally intact. The distant influence of the amygdala was also evidenced by the parametric relationship between amygdala damage and the level of emotional activation in the fusiform cortex. Our data show that combining the fMRI and lesion approaches can help reveal the source of functional modulatory influences between distant but interconnected brain regions.
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