Species-specific diversity in the anatomical and physiological organisation of the BNST-VTA pathway

Eur J Neurosci. 2017 May;45(9):1230-1240. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13554. Epub 2017 Mar 28.


The anteromedial part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (amBNST) is a limbic structure innervating the ventral tegmental area (VTA) that is remarkably constant across species. The amBNST modulates fear and anxiety, and activation of VTA dopamine (DA) neurons by amBNST afferents seems to be the way by which stress controls motivational states associated with reward or aversion. Because fear learning and anxiety states can be expressed differently between rats and mice, we compared the functional connectivity between amBNST and the VTA-DA neurons in both species using consistent methodological approaches. Using a combination of in vivo electrophysiological, neuroanatomical tracing and laser capture approaches we explored the BNST influences on VTA-DA neuron activity. First, we characterised in rats the molecular phenotype of the amBNST neurons projecting to the VTA. We found that this projection is complex, including both GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons. Then, VTA injections of a conventional retrograde tracer, the β-sub-unit of the cholera toxin (CTB), revealed a stronger BNST-VTA projection in mice than in rats. Finally, electrical stimulations of the BNST during VTA-DA neuron recording demonstrated a more potent excitatory influence of the amBNST on VTA-DA neuron activity in rats than in mice. These data illustrate anatomically, but also functionally, a significant difference between rats and mice in the amBNST-VTA pathway. More generally, together with previous findings, our research highlights the importance of species differences for the interpretation and the generalisation of research data.

Keywords: dopamine; mice; rat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • GABAergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Pathways
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward
  • Septal Nuclei* / anatomy & histology
  • Species Specificity
  • Ventral Tegmental Area* / anatomy & histology


  • Dopamine

Associated data

  • GENBANK/NM_017007
  • GENBANK/NM_053427
  • GENBANK/NM_153725
  • GENBANK/NM_012920
  • GENBANK/NM_017008
  • GENBANK/NM_031144