Serotonin inputs to the dorsal BNST modulate anxiety in a 5-HT1A receptor-dependent manner
Serotonin (5-HT) neurons project from the raphe nuclei throughout the brain where they act to maintain homeostasis. Here, we study 5-HT inputs into the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), a major subdivision of the extended amygdala that has been proposed to regulate responses to anxiogenic environments in humans and rodents. While the dorsal part of the BNST (dBNST) receives dense 5-HT innervation, whether and how 5-HT in the dBNST normally modulates anxiety remains unclear. Using optogenetics, we demonstrate that activation of 5-HT terminals in the dBNST reduces anxiety in a highly anxiogenic environment. Further analysis revealed that optogenetic inhibition of 5-HT inputs into the dBNST increases anxiety in a less anxiogenic environment. We found that 5-HT predominantly hyperpolarizes dBNST neurons, reducing their activity in a manner that can be blocked by a 5-HT1A antagonist. Finally, we demonstrate that activation of 5-HT1A receptors in the dBNST is necessary for the anxiolytic effect observed following optogenetic stimulation of 5-HT inputs into the dBNST. These data reveal that 5-HT release in the dBNST modulates anxiety-like behavior via 5-HT1A receptors under naturalistic conditions.