Lesions in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis disrupt corticosterone and freezing responses elicited by a contextual but not by a specific cue-conditioned fear stimulus

Neuroscience. 2004;128(1):7-14. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2004.06.015.


The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is believed to be a critical relay between the central nucleus of the amygdala (CE) and the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus in the control of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responses elicited by conditioned fear stimuli. If correct, lesions of CE or BNST should block expression of HPA responses elicited by either a specific conditioned fear cue or a conditioned context. To test this, rats were subjected to cued (tone) or contextual classical fear conditioning. Two days later, electrolytic or sham lesions were placed in CE or BNST. After 5 days, the rats were tested for both behavioral (freezing) and neuroendocrine (corticosterone) responses to tone or contextual cues. CE lesions attenuated conditioned freezing and corticosterone responses to both tone and context. In contrast, BNST lesions attenuated these responses to contextual but not tone stimuli. These results suggest CE is indeed an essential output of the amygdala for the expression of conditioned fear responses, including HPA responses, regardless of the nature of the conditioned stimulus. However, because lesions of BNST only affected behavioral and endocrine responses to contextual stimuli, the results do not support the notion that BNST is critical for HPA responses elicited by conditioned fear stimuli in general. Instead, the BNST may be essential specifically for contextual conditioned fear responses, including both behavioral and HPA responses, by virtue of its connections with the hippocampus, a structure essential to contextual conditioning. The results are also not consistent with the hypothesis that BNST is only involved in unconditioned aspects of fear and anxiety.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Corticosterone / blood*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Septal Nuclei / pathology*


  • Corticosterone