Disentangling hippocampal and amygdala contribution to human anxiety-like behaviour

Dominik R Bach, Martina Hoffmann, Carsten Finke, Rene Hurlemann and Christoph J Ploner

Anxiety comprises a suite of behaviors to deal with potential threat and is often modeled in approach–avoidance conflict tasks. Collectively, these tests constitute a predominant preclinical model of anxiety disorder. A body of evidence suggests that both ventral hippocampus and amygdala lesions impair anxiety-like behavior, but the relative contribution of these two structures is unclear. A possible reason is that approach–avoidance conflict tasks involve a series of decisions and actions, which may be controlled by distinct neural mechanisms that are difficult to disentangle from behavioral readouts. Here, we capitalize on a human approach–avoidance conflict test, implemented as computer game, that separately measures several action components. We investigate three patients of both sexes with unspecific unilateral medial temporal lobe (MTL) damage, one male with selective bilateral hippocampal (HC), and one female with selective bilateral amygdala lesions, and compare them to matched controls. MTL and selective HC lesions, but not selective amygdala lesions, increased approach decision when possible loss was high. In contrast, MTL and selective amygdala lesions, but not selective HC lesions, increased return latency. Additionally, selective HC and selective amygdala lesions reduced approach latency. In a task targeted at revealing subjective assumptions about the structure of the computer game, MTL and selective HC lesions impacted on reaction time generation but not on the subjective task structure. We conclude that deciding to approach reward under threat relies on hippocampus but not amygdala, whereas vigor of returning to safety depends on amygdala but not on hippocampus.

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J Neurosci. 39 (43): 8517-8526 (2019)


anxiety-like behaviorapproach decisionclinical lesion modelsdouble-dissociation
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