Beyond the amygdala: Linguistic threat modulates peri-sylvian semantic access cortices

Daniel S. Weisholtz, James C. Root, Tracy Butler, Oliver Tüscher, Jane Epstein, Hong Pan, Xenia Protopopescu, Martin Goldstein, Nancy Isenberg, Gary Brendel, Joseph LeDoux, David A. Silbersweig, Emily Stern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study, healthy volunteers were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural systems involved in processing the threatening content conveyed via visually presented "threat words." The neural responses elicited by these words were compared to those elicited by matched neutral control words. The results demonstrate that linguistic threat, when presented in written form, can selectively engage areas of lateral temporal and inferior frontal cortex, distinct from the core language areas implicated in aphasia. Additionally, linguistic threat modulates neural activity in visceral/emotional systems (amygdala, parahippocampal gyrus and periaqueductal gray), and at earlier stages of the visual-linguistic processing stream involved in visual word form representations (ventral occipitotemporal cortex). We propose a model whereby limbic activation modulates activity at multiple nodes along the visual-linguistic-semantic processing stream, including a perisylvian "semantic access network" involved in decoding word meaning, suggesting a dynamic interplay between feedforward and feedback processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-22
Number of pages11
JournalBrain and Language
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Emotion
  • FMRI
  • Functional neuroimaging
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Reading
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing


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