Neural dynamics for facial threat processing as revealed by gamma band synchronization using MEG

Qian Luo*, Tom Holroyd, Matthew Jones, Talma Hendler, James Blair

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Facial threat conveys important information about imminent environmental danger. The rapid detection of this information is critical for survival and social interaction. However, due to technical and methodological difficulties, the spatiotemporal profile for facial threat processing is unknown. By utilizing magnetoencephalography (MEG), a brain-imaging technique with superb temporal resolution and fairly good spatial resolution, Synthetic Aperture Magnetometry (SAM), a recently developed source analysis technique, and a sliding window analysis, we identified the spatiotemporal development of facial threat processing in the gamma frequency band. We also tested the dual-route hypothesis by LeDoux who proposed, based on animal research, that there are two routes to the amygdala: a quick subcortical route and a slower and cortical route. Direct evidence with humans supporting this model has been lacking. Moreover, it has been unclear whether the subcortical route responds specifically to fearful expressions or to threatening expressions in general. We found early event-related synchronizations (ERS) in response to fearful faces in the hypothalamus/thalamus area (10-20 ms) and then the amygdala (20-30 ms). This was even earlier than the ERS response seen to fearful faces in visual cortex (40-50 ms). These data support LeDoux's suggestion of a quick, subcortical thamalo-amygdala route. Moreover, this route was specific for fear expressions; the ERS response in the amygdala to angry expressions had a late onset (150-160 ms). The ERS onset in prefrontal cortex followed that seen within the amygdala (around 160-210 ms). This is consistent with its role in higher-level emotional/cognitive processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)839-847
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
National Institute of Mental HealthZ01MH002860


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