Katalin M Gothard
Assistant Professor, BIO5 Institute
Assistant Professor, Evelyn F Mcknight Brain Institute
Assistant Professor, Neurobiology
Associate Professor, Neurology
Associate Professor, Physiological Sciences - GIDP
Member of the Graduate Faculty
Professor, Physiology
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 626-1448
Work Summary
The broad goal of Katalin Gothard's research is to understand the neural basis of emotion and social behavior. Her lab work reveals the real-time dynamic interactions in multiple systems implicated in emotion regulation and the mechanisms by which emotional responses produce immediate behavioral effects.
Research Interest
The broad goal of my research is to understand the neural basis of emotion and social behavior in non-human primates. Our laboratory pioneered multichannel neural recordings from the amygdala of monkeys engaged in naturalistic social interactions. Neural activity was monitored simultaneously with cardiovascular and other autonomic parameters of emotion to capture unique, coordinated brain-body states. These states, and the transitions between them, are the neural underpinnings of our emotional experiences and the memory thereof. I bring to BIO5 expertise from a broad and diverse range of sources. I earned a medical in Romania in 1988, followed by postgraduate training in neurosurgery, and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience in 1996 at the University of Arizona. As a student, I explored the neural dynamics of spatial learning and memory in rats and determine the interaction of multiple spatial reference frames during navigation. I completed by postdoctoral studies at the UC Davis in primate socio-emotional behavior and the neurophysiological basis of communication with facial expressions. While at Davis, I received a K01 career development award that allowed me to assemble the largest existent annotated video library of macaque social behavior. I used this library to probe the behavioral and neural events that are the basic building blocks of social behavior (e.g., eye contact, the reciprocation of facial expressions, and gaze following). We discovered a specialized class of cell in the monkey brain that are active exclusively in the context of natural social behaviors and respond selectively to eye contact. We have developed techniques of precisely targeted bilateral microinjections in the primate brain and implemented successfully neural recording and parallel with microinjections of drugs and hormones. Currently we are testing the effect of various drugs in the activity of eye cells in the amygdala.


Burke, S. N., Thome, A., Plange, K., Engle, J. R., Trouard, T. P., Gothard, K. M., & Barnes, C. A. (2014). Orbitofrontal cortex volume in area 11/13 predicts reward devaluation, but not reversal learning performance, in young and aged monkeys. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(30), 9905-9916.
BIO5 Collaborators
Carol A Barnes, Katalin M Gothard
Minxha, J., Mosher, C., Morrow, J. K., Mamelak, A. N., Adolphs, R., Gothard, K. M., & Rutishauser, U. (2017). Fixations Gate Species-Specific Responses to Free Viewing of Faces in the Human and Macaque Amygdala. Cell reports, 18(4), 878-891.

Neurons in the primate amygdala respond prominently to faces. This implicates the amygdala in the processing of socially significant stimuli, yet its contribution to social perception remains poorly understood. We evaluated the representation of faces in the primate amygdala during naturalistic conditions by recording from both human and macaque amygdala neurons during free viewing of identical arrays of images with concurrent eye tracking. Neurons responded to faces only when they were fixated, suggesting that neuronal activity was gated by visual attention. Further experiments in humans utilizing covert attention confirmed this hypothesis. In both species, the majority of face-selective neurons preferred faces of conspecifics, a bias also seen behaviorally in first fixation preferences. Response latencies, relative to fixation onset, were shortest for conspecific-selective neurons and were ∼100 ms shorter in monkeys compared to humans. This argues that attention to faces gates amygdala responses, which in turn prioritize species-typical information for further processing.

Gothard, K. M. (2017). New perspectives on the neurophysiology of primate amygdala emerging from the study of naturalistic social behaviors. Wiley Interdisciplinary Review in Cognitive Sciene, 9(1). doi:10.1002/wcs
Gothard, K. M. (2017). Silicon foreign body in the cerebrum of a rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta)”. Comparative Medicine.
Mosher, C. P., Zimmerman, P. E., Fuglevand, A. J., & Gothard, K. M. (2016). Tactile Stimulation of the Face and the Production of Facial Expressions Activate Neurons in the Primate Amygdala. eNeuro, 3(5).

The majority of neurophysiological studies that have explored the role of the primate amygdala in the evaluation of social signals have relied on visual stimuli such as images of facial expressions. Vision, however, is not the only sensory modality that carries social signals. Both humans and nonhuman primates exchange emotionally meaningful social signals through touch. Indeed, social grooming in nonhuman primates and caressing touch in humans is critical for building lasting and reassuring social bonds. To determine the role of the amygdala in processing touch, we recorded the responses of single neurons in the macaque amygdala while we applied tactile stimuli to the face. We found that one-third of the recorded neurons responded to tactile stimulation. Although we recorded exclusively from the right amygdala, the receptive fields of 98% of the neurons were bilateral. A fraction of these tactile neurons were monitored during the production of facial expressions and during facial movements elicited occasionally by touch stimuli. Firing rates arising during the production of facial expressions were similar to those elicited by tactile stimulation. In a subset of cells, combining tactile stimulation with facial movement further augmented the firing rates. This suggests that tactile neurons in the amygdala receive input from skin mechanoceptors that are activated by touch and by compressions and stretches of the facial skin during the contraction of the underlying muscles. Tactile neurons in the amygdala may play a role in extracting the valence of touch stimuli and/or monitoring the facial expressions of self during social interactions.