The periaqueductal gray and primal emotional processing critical to influence complex defensive responses, fear learning and reward seeking
The periaqueductal gray (PAG) has been commonly recognized as a downstream site in neural networks for the expression of a variety of behaviors and is thought to provide stereotyped responses. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that the PAG may exert more complex modulation of a number of behavioral responses and work as a unique hub supplying primal emotional tone to influence prosencephalic sites mediating complex aversive and appetitive responses. Of particular relevance, we review how the PAG is involved in influencing complex forms of defensive responses, such as circa-strike and risk assessment responses in animals. In addition, we discuss putative dorsal PAG ascending paths that are likely to convey information related to threatening events to cortico-hippocampal-amygdalar circuits involved in the processing of fear learning. Finally, we discuss the evidence supporting the role of the PAG in reward seeking and note that the lateral PAG is part of the circuitry related to goal-oriented responses mediating the motivation to hunt and perhaps drug seeking behavior.