The differential mice response to cat and snake odor

Physiol Behav. 2015 Dec 1;152(Pt A):272-9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.10.013. Epub 2015 Oct 22.


Studies from the last two decades have pointed to multiple mechanisms of fear. For responding to predators, there is a group of highly interconnected hypothalamic nuclei formed by the anterior hypothalamic nucleus, the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus and the dorsal premammillary nucleus—the predator-responsive hypothalamic circuit. This circuit expresses Fos in response to predator presence or its odor. Lesion of any component of this system blocks or reduces the expression of fear and consequently defensive behavior when faced with a predator or its cue. However, most of the knowledge about that circuit has been obtained using the rat as a model of prey and the cat as a source of predator cues. In the present study, we exposed mice to strong cat or snake odors, two known mice predators, and then we used the rat exposure test (RET) to study their behavior when confronted with the same predator's odor. Our data point to a differential response of mice exposed to these odors. When Swiss mice were exposed to the cat odor, they show defensive behavior and the predator-responsive hypothalamic circuit expressed Fos. The opposite was seen when they faced snake's odor. The acute odor exposure was not sufficient to activate the mouse predator-responsive hypothalamic circuit and the mice acted like they were not in a stressful situation, showing almost no sign of fear or defensive posture. This leads us to the conclusion that not all the predator cues are sufficient to activate the predator-responsive hypothalamic circuit of mice and that their response depends on the danger that these predators represent in the natural history of the prey.

Keywords: Defensive behavior; Fos; Hypothalamus; Predator odor; Predator-responsive circuit.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Boidae
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cats
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Random Allocation


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos