Early Amygdala Damage Alters the Way Rhesus Macaques Process Species-Specific Audio-Visual Vocalizations

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Perceiving, integrating, and interpreting multimodal signals are essential for social success, but the neural substrates mediating these functions are not fully understood. This study examined the role of the amygdala in processing bimodal species-specific vocalizations using eye tracking in rhesus macaques. Looking behavior of 6 adult rhesus monkeys with neonatal amygdala lesions (Neo-Aibo; 3M, 3F) was compared with that of 6 sham-operated controls (Neo-C; 3M, 3F). Two side-by-side videos of unknown male conspecifics emitting different vocalizations were presented with the audio signal matching one video. The percentage of time spent looking at each video was used to assess crossmodal integration ability and the percentages of time spent looking at a priori regions of interest (ROIs; eyes, mouth, and rest of each video) were used to characterize scanning patterns. Both groups looked more to one video, indicating that early amygdalar damage did not impair crossmodal integration of complex social signals. However, scanning patterns differed across groups as a function of sex and stimulus parameter. Whereas Neo-C males exhibited differential viewing to the eye and mouth regions as a function of the relative identity of the stimulus animals and Neo-C females made similar distinctions as a function of the relative valence of the vocalizations in females, Neo-Aibo males and females scanned these regions similarly across all trial types. The results suggest that neonatal amygdala damage alters the ability to perceive the social relevance of stimulus features, and are consistent with a role of the amygdala in the recognition of the social salience of complex cues.

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