The overlap between fear and anxiety brain circuits

September 21, 2020

Fear and anxiety reflect overlapping brain circuits, according to research recently published in JNeurosci. The findings highlight a need to reevaluate the existing models guiding anxiety research.

While "fear" and "anxiety" are often used interchangeably, prevailing scientific theory suggests that they are distinct, with different triggers and separate brain circuits. Fear -- a fleeting reaction to certain danger -- is thought to be controlled by the amygdala, whereas anxiety -- a persistent, heightened state of distress in response to uncertain threat -- is thought to be orchestrated by the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). However, new evidence from Hur et al. suggests these two brain regions are equally sensitive to certain and uncertain threat.

The research team measured brain activity with fMRI while people anticipated receiving a painful shock paired with an unpleasant image and sound. Waiting for threat, whether predictable or not in its timing, recruited an overlapping network of brain regions including the BNST and the amygdala. Across a variety of tests, the two structures showed statistically indistinguishable responses, suggesting that states of fear and anxiety are assembled from a common set of core neural building blocks. These observations raise important questions about the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health's model guiding research into the biology of emotional disorders.
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Manuscript title: Anxiety and the Neurobiology of Temporally Uncertain Threat Anticipation

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

Society for Neuroscience

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