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Intrinsic functional connectivity of the central extended amygdala.

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The central extended amygdala (EAc)-including the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) and central nucleus of the amygdala (Ce)-plays a critical role in triggering fear and anxiety and is implicated in the development of a range of debilitating neuropsychiatric disorders. Although it is widely believed that these disorders reflect the coordinated activity of distributed neural circuits, the functional architecture of the EAc network and the degree to which the BST and the Ce show distinct patterns of functional connectivity is unclear. Here, we used a novel combination of imaging approaches to trace the connectivity of the BST and the Ce in 130 healthy, racially diverse, community-dwelling adults. Multiband imaging, high-precision registration techniques, and spatially unsmoothed data maximized anatomical specificity. Using newly developed seed regions, whole-brain regression analyses revealed robust functional connectivity between the BST and Ce via the sublenticular extended amygdala, the ribbon of subcortical gray matter encompassing the ventral amygdalofugal pathway. Both regions displayed coupling with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), midcingulate cortex (MCC), insula, and anterior hippocampus. The BST showed stronger connectivity with the thalamus, striatum, periaqueductal gray, and several prefrontal territories. The only regions showing stronger functional connectivity with the Ce were neighboring regions of the dorsal amygdala, amygdalohippocampal area, and anterior hippocampus. These observations provide a baseline against which to compare a range of special populations, inform our understanding of the role of the EAc in normal and pathological fear and anxiety, and showcase image registration techniques that are likely to be useful for researchers working with "deidentified" neuroimaging data.

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