Detailed mapping of human habenula resting-state functional connectivity

Benjamin A. Ely, Emily R. Stern, Joo won Kim, Vilma Gabbay, Junqian Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The habenula (Hb) inhibits dopaminergic reward signaling in response to negative outcomes and has been linked to numerous functional domains relevant to mental health, including reward prediction, motivation, and aversion processing. Despite its important neuroscientific and clinical implications, however, the human Hb remains poorly understood due to its small size and the associated technical hurdles to in vivo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) investigation. Using high-resolution 3 T fMRI data from 68 healthy young adults acquired through the Human Connectome Project, we developed a rigorous approach for mapping the whole-brain resting-state functional connectivity of the human Hb. Our study combined an optimized strategy for defining subject-level connectivity seeds to maximize Hb blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal sensitivity with high-quality surface-based alignment for robust functional localization and cortical sensitivity. We identified significant positive Hb connectivity with: (i) conserved brainstem targets, including the dopaminergic ventral tegmental area, serotonergic raphe nuclei, and periaqueductal gray; (ii) subcortical structures related to reward and motor function, including the nucleus accumbens, dorsal striatum, pallidum, thalamus, and cerebellum; and (iii) cortical areas associated with the Salience Network and early sensory processing, including the dorsal anterior cingulate, anterior insula, and primary visual and auditory cortices. Hb connectivity was strongly biased towards task-positive brain regions, with weak or negative connectivity observed throughout the task-negative Default Mode Network. Our study provides a detailed characterization of Hb resting-state functional connectivity in healthy young adults, demonstrating both the feasibility and clinical potential of studying the human Hb using high-resolution 3 T fMRI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-634
Number of pages14
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2019


  • Default mode network
  • Pain
  • Reward
  • Salience
  • Sensory cortex
  • fMRI


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