Fox, A. S. * & Shackman, A. J. * (in press). The central extended amygdala in fear and anxiety: Closing the gap between mechanistic and neuroimaging research. Neuroscience Letters.


NB: This review refines, clarifies, and updates Shackman & Fox 2016.




Anxiety disorders impose a staggering burden on public health, underscoring the need to develop a deeper understanding of the distributed neural circuits underlying extreme fear and anxiety. Recent work highlights the importance of the central extended amygdala, including the central nucleus of the amygdala (Ce) and neighboring bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST). Anatomical data indicate that the Ce and BST form a tightly interconnected unit, where different kinds of threat-relevant information can be integrated to assemble states of fear and anxiety. Neuroimaging studies show that the Ce and BST are engaged by a broad spectrum of potentially threat-relevant cues. Likewise, mechanistic work demonstrates that the Ce and BST are critically involved in organizing defensive responses to a wide range of threats. Studies in rodents have begun to reveal the specific molecules, cells, and microcircuits within the central extended amygdala that underlie signs of fear and anxiety, but the relevance of these tantalizing discoveries to human experience and disease remains unclear. Using a combination of focal perturbations and whole-brain imaging, a new generation of nonhuman primate studies is beginning to close this gap. This work opens the door to discovering the mechanisms underlying neuroimaging measures linked to pathological fear and anxiety, to understanding how the Ce and BST interact with one another and distal brain regions to govern defensive responses to threat, and to developing improved intervention strategies.

Key Words: affective neuroscience, anxiety disorders, BST/BNST; emotion, individual differences, neuroimaging, nonhuman primates

Support: This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (DA040717, MH107444); University of California, Davis; and University of Maryland, College Park.