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The hypothalamus is part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which activates stress responses through release of cortisol. It is a small but heterogeneous structure comprising multiple nuclei. In vivo human neuroimaging has rarely succeeded in recording signals from individual hypothalamus nuclei. Here we use human resting-state fMRI (n = 498) with high spatial resolution to examine relationships between the functional connectivity of specific hypothalamic nuclei and a dimensional marker of prolonged stress. First, we demonstrate that we can parcellate the human hypothalamus into seven nuclei in vivo. Using the functional connectivity between these nuclei and other subcortical structures including the amygdala, we significantly predict stress scores out-of-sample. Predictions use 0.0015% of all possible brain edges, are specific to stress, and improve when using nucleus-specific compared to whole-hypothalamus connectivity. Thus, stress relates to connectivity changes in precise and functionally meaningful subcortical networks, which may be exploited in future studies using interventions in stress disorders.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Humans, Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System, Pituitary-Adrenal System, Hypothalamus, Brain, Amygdala, Magnetic Resonance Imaging