Essay on The Role of the Amygdala in Fear and Panic

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The Role of the Amygdala in Fear and Panic

The definition of fear has proved to be an elusive mystery plaguing scientists. While there is much agreement as to the physiological effects of fear, the neural pathways and connections that bring upon these effects are not well understood. From the evolutionary standpoint, the theory is that fear is a neural circuit that has been designed to keep the organism alive in dangerous situations (1). How does it all work? Learning and responding to stimuli that warn of danger involves neural pathways that send information about the outside world to the amygdala, which in turn, determines the significance of the stimulus and triggers emotional responses like freezing or fleeing as well as changes
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The amygdala receives projections from frontal cortex, association cortex, temporal lobe, olfactory system and other parts of the limbic system. In return, it sends its afferents to frontal and prefrontal cortex, orbitifrontal cortex, hypothalmus, hippocampus, as well as brain stem nuclei (20). After this point, neither the concrete definition as to the extent of the amygdala is not clear, nor is the exact function of each of its subgroups. In the amygdala region alone, there is much controversy surrounding the nuclear subgroups, resulting in classifications that range between 5 and 22 different groups within the amygdala itself. Despite all of this, there are four main groups that have been universally agreed upon. These are the Basolateral, Lateral, Central, and Basomedial nuclei. The amygdala is considered to be the key component to the limbic system, a term that has also been regarded with much recent controversy by researchers in the field of emotions. One of the biggest surprises from LeDoux's work is that there may be no such thing as the limbic system – a brain structure that has been supposed to underlie emotion and motivation. "All students are taught about the limbic system," LeDoux said, "but in my opinion, it's no longer a valid concept." (2) Reasons for his assertations center around the investigations of the mechanisms by which the amygdala processes