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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Nov 1;12(11):1766-1774. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx103.

Activity alterations in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and amygdala during threat anticipation in generalized anxiety disorder.

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Institute of Medical Psychology and Systems Neuroscience, University of Muenster, 48149 Muenster, Germany.
Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, University Clinic Wuerzburg, 97080 Wuerzburg, Germany.


Sustained anticipatory anxiety is central to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). During anticipatory anxiety, phasic threat responding appears to be mediated by the amygdala, while sustained threat responding seems related to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). Although sustained anticipatory anxiety in GAD patients was proposed to be associated with BNST activity alterations, firm evidence is lacking. We aimed to explore temporal characteristics of BNST and amygdala activity during threat anticipation in GAD patients. Nineteen GAD patients and nineteen healthy controls (HC) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a temporally unpredictable threat anticipation paradigm. We defined phasic and a systematic variation of sustained response models for blood oxygen level-dependent responses during threat anticipation, to disentangle temporally dissociable involvement of the BNST and the amygdala. GAD patients relative to HC responded with increased phasic amygdala activity to onset of threat anticipation and with elevated sustained BNST activity that was delayed relative to the onset of threat anticipation. Both the amygdala and the BNST displayed altered responses during threat anticipation in GAD patients, albeit with different time courses. The results for the BNST activation hint towards its role in sustained threat responding, and contribute to a deeper understanding of pathological sustained anticipatory anxiety in GAD.


anticipatory anxiety; anxiety; fMRI; phasic threat responding; sustained threat responding

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