Understanding the habenula: A major node in circuits regulating emotion and motivation

Jessica L. Ables, Kwanghoon Park, Inés Ibañez-Tallon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Over the last decade, the understanding of the habenula has rapidly advanced from being an understudied brain area with the Latin name ‘habena” meaning “little rein”, to being considered a “major rein” in the control of key monoaminergic brain centers. This ancient brain structure is a strategic node in the information flow from fronto-limbic brain areas to brainstem nuclei. As such, it plays a crucial role in regulating emotional, motivational, and cognitive behaviors and has been implicated in several neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and addiction. This review will summarize recent findings on the medial (MHb) and lateral (LHb) habenula, their topographical projections, cell types, and functions. Additionally, we will discuss contemporary efforts that have uncovered novel molecular pathways and synaptic mechanisms with a focus on MHb-Interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) synapses. Finally, we will explore the potential interplay between the habenula's cholinergic and non-cholinergic components in coordinating related emotional and motivational behaviors, raising the possibility that these two pathways work together to provide balanced roles in reward prediction and aversion, rather than functioning independently.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106734
JournalPharmacological Research
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Cholinergic receptors
  • Depression
  • Drug addiction
  • Habenular therapies
  • Neurocircuitry
  • Synaptic transmission


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