The amygdala, an almond-sized and -shaped brain structure, has long been linked with a person's mental and emotional state. But thanks to scientific advances, researchers have recently grasped how important this 1-inch-long structure really is. Associated with a range of mental conditions from normalcy to depression to even autism, the amygdala has become the focal point of numerous research projects.

Derived from the Greek for almond, the amygdala sits in the brain's medial temporal lobe, a few inches from either ear. Coursing through the amygdala are nerves connecting it to a number of important brain centers, including the neocortex and visual cortex. "More and more we're beginning to believe, and the evidence is pointing to the idea, that it's the circuits that are important, not just the structure per se," says Ned Kalin, professor of psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison. "And in this particular case the circuitry between the frontal...

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