Task-irrelevant fear enhances amygdala-FFG inhibition and decreases subsequent face processing

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Facial threat is associated with changes in limbic activity as well as modifications in the cortical face-related N170. It remains unclear if task-irrelevant threat modulates the response to a subsequent facial stimulus, and whether the amygdala’s role in early threat perception is independent and direct, or modulatory. In 19 participants, crowds of emotional faces were followed by target faces and a rating task while simultaneous EEG-fMRI were recorded. In addition to conventional analyses, fMRI-informed EEG analyses and fMRI dynamic causal modeling (DCM) were performed. Fearful crowds reduced EEG N170 target face amplitudes and increased responses in a fMRI network comprising insula, amygdala and inferior frontal cortex. Multimodal analyses showed that amygdala response was present ∼60 ms before the right fusiform gyrus-derived N170. DCM indicated inhibitory connections from amygdala to fusiform gyrus, strengthened when fearful crowds preceded a target face. Results demonstrated the suppressing influence of task-irrelevant fearful crowds on subsequent face processing. The amygdala may be sensitive to task-irrelevant fearful crowds and subsequently strengthen its inhibitory influence on face-responsive fusiform N170 generators. This provides spatiotemporal evidence for a feedback mechanism of the amygdala by narrowing attention in order to focus on potential threats.

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