Mode of functional connectivity in amygdala pathways dissociates level of awareness for signals of fear.
Many of the same regions of the human brain are activated during conscious attention to signals of fear and in the absence of awareness for these signals. The neural mechanisms that dissociate level of awareness from activation in these regions remain unknown. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging with connectivity analysis in healthy human subjects, we demonstrate that level of awareness for signals of fear depends on mode of functional connectivity in amygdala pathways rather than discrete patterns of activation in these pathways. Awareness for fear relied on negative connectivity within both cortical and subcortical pathways to the amygdala, suggesting that reentrant feedback may be necessary to afford such awareness. In contrast, responses to fear in the absence of awareness were supported by positive connections in a direct subcortical pathway to the amygdala, consistent with the view that excitatory feedforward connections along this pathway may be sufficient for automatic responses to "unseen" fear.