Facial expressions of fear are universally recognized signals of potential threat. Humans may have evolved specialized neural systems for responding to fear in the absence of conscious stimulus detection. We used functional neuroimaging to establish whether the amygdala and the medial prefrontal regions to which it projects are engaged by subliminal fearful faces and whether responses to subliminal fear are distinguished from those to supraliminal fear. We also examined the time course of amygdala-medial prefrontal responses to supraliminal and subliminal fear. Stimuli were fearful and neutral baseline faces, presented under subliminal (16.7 ms and masked) or supraliminal (500 ms) conditions. Skin conductance responses (SCRs) were recorded simultaneously as an objective index of fear perception. SPM2 was used to undertake search region-of-interest (ROI) analyses for the amygdala and medial prefrontal (including anterior cingulate) cortex, and complementary whole-brain analyses. Time series data were extracted from ROIs to examine activity across early versus late phases of the experiment. SCRs and amygdala activity were enhanced in response to both subliminal and supraliminal fear perception. Time series analysis showed a trend toward greater right amygdala responses to subliminal fear, but left-sided responses to supraliminal fear. Cortically, subliminal fear was distinguished by right ventral anterior cingulate activity and supraliminal fear by dorsal anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal activity. Although subcortical amygdala activity was relatively persistent for subliminal fear, supraliminal fear showed more sustained cortical activity. The findings suggest that preverbal processing of fear may occur via a direct rostral–ventral amygdala pathway without the need for conscious surveillance, whereas elaboration of consciously attended signals of fear may rely on higher-order processing within a dorsal cortico–amygdala pathway. Hum Brain Mapp, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.