Principal basolateral amygdala (BL) neurons profoundly influence motivated behaviors, yet few of them are activated by emotionally valenced stimuli. Here, we show that a likely explanation for this paradox is the synchronizing influence of the high-gamma rhythm. High-gamma (75–95 Hz) entrained BL firing more strongly than all other rhythms. It was most pronounced during states of increased vigilance, when rats were apprehensive. Relative to behavioral states, high-gamma produced minor changes in firing rates yet dramatic increases in synchrony. Moreover, connected pairs of cells showed similarly high levels of entrainment and synchronization. Unexpectedly, prefrontal- and accumbens-projecting cells, respectively, showed high and low entrainment by high-gamma, indicating that this rhythm differentially synchronizes the activity of BL neurons projecting to specific sites. Overall, our findings suggest that individual BL neurons encode information not only by changing their firing rates, but also by synchronizing their collective activity, amplifying their impact on target structures. Few principal basolateral amygdala (BL) neurons are activated by emotionally valenced stimuli, yet they profoundly influence behavior. Amir et al. show that the solution to this paradox resides in the synchronization of individual BL neurons by high-gamma.
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