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Published May 1, 2003 | Published
Journal Article Open

Neural Correlates of Competing Fear Behaviors Evoked by an Innately Aversive Stimulus


Environment and experience influence defensive behaviors, but the neural circuits mediating such effects are not well understood. We describe a new experimental model in which either flight or freezing reactions can be elicited from mice by innately aversive ultrasound. Flight and freezing are negatively correlated, suggesting a competition between fear motor systems. An unfamiliar environment or a previous aversive event, moreover, can alter the balance between these behaviors. To identify potential circuits controlling this competition, global activity patterns in the whole brain were surveyed in an unbiased manner by c-fos in situ hybridization, using novel experimental and analytical methods. Mice predominantly displaying freezing behavior had preferential neural activity in the lateral septum ventral and several medial and periventricular hypothalamic nuclei, whereas mice predominantly displaying flight had more activity in cortical, amygdalar, and striatal motor areas, the dorsolateral posterior zone of the hypothalamus, and the vertical limb of the diagonal band. These complementary patterns of c-fos induction, taken together with known connections between these structures, suggest ways in which the brain may mediate the balance between these opponent defensive behaviors.

Additional Information

© 2003 Society for Neuroscience. Received Dec. 2, 2002; Revised Feb. 14, 2003; Accepted Feb. 19, 2003. This work was supported in part by a Keck foundation grant to California Institute of Technology. D.J.A. is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We thank Gabriele Mosconi and Jennifer Uyeda for technical assistance and Erin Schuman, Nirao Shah, and Eric Kandel for comments on this manuscript.

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