Recent technical developments have transformed how neuroscientists can probe brain function. What was once thought to be difficult and perhaps impossible, stimulating a single set of long range inputs among many, is now relatively straight-forward using optogenetic approaches. This has provided an avalanche of data demonstrating causal roles for circuits in a variety of behaviors. However, despite the critical role that neuropeptide signaling plays in the regulation of behavior and physiology of the brain, there have been remarkably few studies demonstrating how peptide release is causally linked to behaviors. This is likely due to both the different time scale by which peptides act on and the modulatory nature of their actions. For example, while glutamate release can effectively transmit information between synapses in milliseconds, peptide release is potentially slower [See the excellent review by Van Den Pol on the time scales and mechanisms of release (van den Pol, 2012)] and it can only tune the existing signals via modulation. And while there have been some studies exploring mechanisms of release, it is still not as clearly known what is required for efficient peptide release. Furthermore, this analysis could be complicated by the fact that there are multiple peptides released, some of which may act in contrast. Despite these limitations, there are a number of groups making progress in this area. The goal of this review is to explore the role of peptide signaling in one specific structure, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, that has proven to be a fertile ground for peptide action.
Keywords: CRF; NPY; connectivity; extended amygdala; signaling.