Katalin M Gothard

Katalin M Gothard

Professor, Physiology
Assistant Professor, Evelyn F Mcknight Brain Institute
Assistant Professor, Neurobiology
Associate Professor, Neurology
Associate Professor, Physiological Sciences - GIDP
Member of the Graduate Faculty
Assistant Professor, BIO5 Institute
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
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.

Ballesta, S., Mosher, C. P., Szep, J., Fischl, K. D., & Gothard, K. M. (2016). Social determinants of eyeblinks in adult male macaques. Scientific reports, 6, 38686.

Videos with rich social and emotional content elicit natural social behaviors in primates. Indeed, while watching videos of conspecifics, monkeys engage in eye contact, gaze follow, and reciprocate facial expressions. We hypothesized that the frequency and timing of eyeblinks also depends on the social signals contained in videos. We monitored the eyeblinks of four male adult macaques while they watched videos of conspecifics displaying facial expressions with direct or averted gaze. The instantaneous blink rate of all four animals decreased during videos. The temporal synchrony of blinking, however, increased in response to segments depicting appeasing or aggressive facial expressions directed at the viewer. Two of the four monkeys, who systematically reciprocated the direct gaze of the stimulus monkeys, also showed eyeblink entrainment, a temporal coordination of blinking between social partners engaged in dyadic interactions. Together, our results suggest that in macaques, as in humans, blinking depends not only on the physiological imperative to protect the eyes and spread a film of tears over the cornea, but also on several socio-emotional factors.

Mosher, C. P., Zimmerman, P. E., & Gothard, K. M. (2014). Neurons in the monkey amygdala detect eye contact during naturalistic social interactions. Current Biology, 24(20), 2459-64.

Primates explore the visual world through eye-movement sequences. Saccades bring details of interest into the fovea, while fixations stabilize the image. During natural vision, social primates direct their gaze at the eyes of others to communicate their own emotions and intentions and to gather information about the mental states of others. Direct gaze is an integral part of facial expressions that signals cooperation or conflict over resources and social status. Despite the great importance of making and breaking eye contact in the behavioral repertoire of primates, little is known about the neural substrates that support these behaviors. Here we show that the monkey amygdala contains neurons that respond selectively to fixations on the eyes of others and to eye contact. These "eye cells" share several features with the canonical, visually responsive neurons in the monkey amygdala; however, they respond to the eyes only when they fall within the fovea of the viewer, either as a result of a deliberate saccade or as eyes move into the fovea of the viewer during a fixation intended to explore a different feature. The presence of eyes in peripheral vision fails to activate the eye cells. These findings link the primate amygdala to eye movements involved in the exploration and selection of details in visual scenes that contain socially and emotionally salient features.