Subcortical amygdala pathways enable rapid face processing.
Garvert MM., Friston KJ., Dolan RJ., Garrido MI.
Human faces may signal relevant information and are therefore analysed rapidly and effectively by the brain. However, the precise mechanisms and pathways involved in rapid face processing are unclear. One view posits a role for a subcortical connection between early visual sensory regions and the amygdala, while an alternative account emphasises cortical mediation. To adjudicate between these functional architectures, we recorded magnetoencephalographic (MEG) evoked fields in human subjects to presentation of faces with varying emotional valence. Early brain activity was better explained by dynamic causal models containing a direct subcortical connection to the amygdala irrespective of emotional modulation. At longer latencies, models without a subcortical connection had comparable evidence. Hence, our results support the hypothesis that a subcortical pathway to the amygdala plays a role in rapid sensory processing of faces, in particular during early stimulus processing. This finding contributes to an understanding of the amygdala as a behavioural relevance detector.