The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST)-a key part of the extended amygdala-has been implicated in the regulation of diverse behavioral states, ranging from anxiety and reward processing to feeding behavior. Among the host of distinct types of neurons within the BNST, recent investigations employing cell type- and projection-specific circuit dissection techniques (such as optogenetics, chemogenetics, deep-brain calcium imaging, and the genetic and viral methods for targeting specific types of cells) have highlighted the key roles of glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons and their axonal projections. As anticipated from their primary roles in excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission, these studies established that the glutamatergic and GABAergic subpopulations of the BNST oppositely regulate diverse behavioral states. At the same time, these studies have also revealed unexpected functional specificity and heterogeneity within each subpopulation. In this Minireview, we introduce the body of studies that investigated the function of glutamatergic and GABAergic BNST neurons and their circuits. We also discuss unresolved questions and future directions for a more complete understanding of the cellular diversity and functional heterogeneity within the BNST.
Keywords: bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; gamma-aminobutyric acid; glutamate; neural circuitry.