Hypothalamic Control of Conspecific Self-Defense.Cell Rep. 2019 02 12; 26(7):1747-1758.e5.CR
Active defense against a conspecific aggressor is essential for survival. Previous studies revealed strong c-Fos expression in the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvl) in defeated animals. Here, we examined the functional relevance and in vivo responses of the VMHvl during conspecific defense. We found that VMHvl cells expressing estrogen receptor α (Esr1) are acutely excited during active conspecific defense. Optogenetic inhibition of the cells compromised an animal's ability to actively defend against an aggressor, whereas activating the cells elicited defense-like behaviors. Furthermore, the VMHvl is known for its role in aggression. In vivo recording and c-Fos mapping revealed differential organization of the defense and aggression-responsive cells in the VMHvl. Specifically, defense-activated cells are concentrated in the anterior part of the VMHvl, which preferentially targets the periaqueductal gray (PAG). Thus, our study identified an essential neural substrate for active conspecific defense and expanded the function of the VMHvl.