The emotional gatekeeper: a computational model of attentional selection and suppression through the pathway from the amygdala to the inhibitory thalamic reticular nucleus
John, Yohan J.
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CitationJohn YJ, Zikopoulos B, Bullock D, Barbas H (2016) The Emotional Gatekeeper: A Computational Model of Attentional Selection and Suppression through the Pathway from the Amygdala to the Inhibitory Thalamic Reticular Nucleus. PLoS Comput Biol 12(2): e1004722. doi:10.1371/journal. pcbi.1004722
In a complex environment that contains both opportunities and threats, it is important for an organism to flexibly direct attention based on current events and prior plans. The amygdala, the hub of the brain's emotional system, is involved in forming and signaling affective associations between stimuli and their consequences. The inhibitory thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) is a hub of the attentional system that gates thalamo-cortical signaling. In the primate brain, a recently discovered pathway from the amygdala sends robust projections to TRN. Here we used computational modeling to demonstrate how the amygdala-TRN pathway, embedded in a wider neural circuit, can mediate selective attention guided by emotions. Our Emotional Gatekeeper model demonstrates how this circuit enables focused top-down, and flexible bottom-up, allocation of attention. The model suggests that the amygdala-TRN projection can serve as a unique mechanism for emotion-guided selection of signals sent to cortex for further processing. This inhibitory selection mechanism can mediate a powerful affective 'framing' effect that may lead to biased decision-making in highly charged emotional situations. The model also supports the idea that the amygdala can serve as a relevance detection system. Further, the model demonstrates how abnormal top-down drive and dysregulated local inhibition in the amygdala and in the cortex can contribute to the attentional symptoms that accompany several neuropsychiatric disorders.
Rights© 2016 John et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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