Ventromedial hypothalamic neurons control a defensive emotion state

Abstract

Defensive behaviors reflect underlying emotion states, such as fear. The hypothalamus plays a role in such behaviors, but prevailing textbook views depict it as an effector of upstream emotion centers, such as the amygdala, rather than as an emotion center itself. We used optogenetic manipulations to probe the function of a specific hypothalamic cell type that mediates innate defensive responses. These neurons are sufficient to drive multiple defensive actions, and required for defensive behaviors in diverse contexts. The behavioral consequences of activating these neurons, moreover, exhibit properties characteristic of emotion states in general, including scalability, (negative) valence, generalization and persistence. Importantly, these neurons can also condition learned defensive behavior, further refuting long-standing claims that the hypothalamus is unable to support emotional learning and therefore is not an emotion center. These data indicate that the hypothalamus plays an integral role to instantiate emotion states, and is not simply a passive effector of upstream emotion centers.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Prabhat S Kunwar

    Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Moriel Zelikowsky

    Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Ryan Remedios

    Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Haijiang Cai

    Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Melis Yilmaz

    Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  6. Markus Meister

    Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  7. David J Anderson

    Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States
    For correspondence
    wuwei@caltech.edu
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

Ethics

Animal experimentation: Animal experimentation: This study was performed in accordance with the recommendations in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the National Institutes of Health. All of the animals were handled according to approved institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) protocol 1602, 1552 & 1600.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Richard D Palmiter, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Washington, United States

Version history

  1. Received: January 22, 2015
  2. Accepted: March 5, 2015
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: March 6, 2015 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: March 31, 2015 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2015, Kunwar et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Prabhat S Kunwar
  2. Moriel Zelikowsky
  3. Ryan Remedios
  4. Haijiang Cai
  5. Melis Yilmaz
  6. Markus Meister
  7. David J Anderson
(2015)
Ventromedial hypothalamic neurons control a defensive emotion state
eLife 4:e06633.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.06633

Share this article

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.06633

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