Distributed neural representations of conditioned threat in the human brain

Zhenfu Wen, Edward F. Pace-Schott, Sara W. Lazar, Jörgen Rosén, Fredrik Åhs, Elizabeth A. Phelps, Joseph E. LeDoux, Mohammed R. Milad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Detecting and responding to threat engages several neural nodes including the amygdala, hippocampus, insular cortex, and medial prefrontal cortices. Recent propositions call for the integration of more distributed neural nodes that process sensory and cognitive facets related to threat. Integrative, sensitive, and reproducible distributed neural decoders for the detection and response to threat and safety have yet to be established. We combine functional MRI data across varying threat conditioning and negative affect paradigms from 1465 participants with multivariate pattern analysis to investigate distributed neural representations of threat and safety. The trained decoders sensitively and specifically distinguish between threat and safety cues across multiple datasets. We further show that many neural nodes dynamically shift representations between threat and safety. Our results establish reproducible decoders that integrate neural circuits, merging the well-characterized ‘threat circuit’ with sensory and cognitive nodes, discriminating threat from safety regardless of experimental designs or data acquisition parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2231
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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