It has been proposed that the central amygdala (CeA), particularly its medial sector (CeM), generates brief fear responses to discrete conditioned cues, whereas the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) promotes long-lasting, anxiety-like states in response to more diffuse contingencies. Although it is believed that BNST-CeA interactions determine the transition between short- and long-duration responses, the nature of these interactions remains unknown. To shed light on this question, we used a double viral strategy to drive the expression of channelrhodopsin (ChR2) in BNST cells that project to CeA. Next, using patch-clamp recordings in vitro, we investigated the connectivity of infected cells to noninfected cells in BNST and compared the influence of BNST axons on neurons in the medial and lateral (CeL) parts of CeA. CeA-projecting BNST cells were concentrated in the anterolateral (AL) and anteroventral (AV) sectors of BNST. Dense plexuses of BNST axons were observed throughout CeA. In CeA and BNST, light-evoked excitatory postsynaptic potentials accounted for a minority of responses (0-9% of tested cells); inhibition prevailed. The incidence of inhibitory responses was higher in CeM than in CeL (66% and 43% of tested cells, respectively). Within BNST, the connections from CeA-projecting to non-CeA-targeting cells varied as a function of the BNST sector: 50% vs. 9% of tested cells exhibited light-evoked responses in BNST-AL vs. BNST-AV, respectively. Overall, these results suggest that via its projection to CeA, BNST exerts an inhibitory influence over cued fear and that BNST neurons projecting to CeA form contrasting connections in different BNST subnuclei.
Keywords: BNST; anxiety; central amygdala; fear.
Copyright © 2015 the American Physiological Society.