Stress Modulation of Opposing Circuits in the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Jan;41(1):103-25. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.178. Epub 2015 Jun 22.


The anterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) has been recognized as a critical structure in regulating trait anxiety, contextual fear memory, and appetitive behavior, and is known to be sensitive to stress manipulations. As one of the most complex structures in the central nervous system, the intrinsic circuitry of the BNST is largely unknown; however, recent technological developments have allowed researchers to begin to untangle the internal connections of the nucleus. This research has revealed the possibility of two opposing circuits, one anxiolytic and one anxiogenic, within the BNST, the relative strength of which determines the behavioral outcome. The balance of these pathways is critical in maintaining a normal physiological and behavioral state; however, stress and drugs of abuse can differentially affect the opposing circuitry within the nucleus to shift the balance to a pathological state. In this review, we will examine how stress interacts with the neuromodulators, corticotropin-releasing factor, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin to affect the circuitry of the BNST as well as how synaptic plasticity in the BNST is modulated by stress, resulting in long-lasting changes in the circuit and behavioral state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / metabolism*
  • Nerve Net / pathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Septal Nuclei / metabolism*
  • Septal Nuclei / pathology
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology


  • Serotonin
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine