Numerous studies demonstrate that the rhesus monkey is an excellent species with which to investigate mechanisms underlying human emotion and psychopathology. To examine the role of the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) in mediating the behavioral and physiological responses associated with fear and anxiety, we used rhesus monkeys to assess the effects of excitotoxic lesions of the CeA. Behavioral and physiological responses of nine monkeys with bilateral CeA destruction (ranging from 46 to 98%) were compared with five animals with asymmetric lesions (42-86.5% destruction on the most affected side) and with 16 unoperated controls. Results suggest that similar to rodent species, the primate CeA plays a role in mediating fear- and anxiety-related behavioral and endocrine responses. Compared with controls and the asymmetric-lesion group, bilaterally lesioned monkeys displayed significantly less fear-related behavior when exposed to a snake and less freezing behavior when confronted by a human intruder. In addition, bilaterally lesioned monkeys had decreased levels of CSF corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF), and both lesioned groups had decreased plasma ACTH concentrations. In contrast to these findings, patterns of asymmetric frontal brain electrical activity, as assessed by regional scalp EEG, did not significantly differ between control and lesioned monkeys. These findings suggest that in primates, the CeA is involved in mediating fear- and anxiety-related behavioral and pituitary-adrenal responses as well as in modulating brain CRF activity.