March 28, 2014

Mapping brain circuitry

Vanderbilt investigators have used two types of neuroimaging to establish a “map” of connections for a brain region important in anxiety and addiction.


Common psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and addiction, likely result from changes in brain circuitry. Understanding structural and functional brain connections – and how they change in psychiatric disorders – could lead to novel preventive and therapeutic strategies.

The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) has been linked to both anxiety and addiction, but its circuitry in humans has not been described. Jennifer Blackford, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry, and colleagues used two neuroimaging methods – diffusion tensor imaging and functional MRI – to identify patterns of connectivity between the BNST and other brain regions in healthy individuals. The BNST showed connections to multiple subcortical brain regions, including limbic, thalamic and basal ganglia structures, which matched reported connections in rodents. The researchers also identified two novel BNST connections: to the temporal pole and to the paracingulate gyrus.

The findings, reported in NeuroImage, provide a map of BNST neurocircuitry and lay the foundation for future studies of the circuits that mediate anxiety and addiction.

This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (MH083052, MH097344, MH018921, RR024975) and by the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science.

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