The ventromedial hypothalamus mediates predator fear memory

Eur J Neurosci. 2016 Jun;43(11):1431-9. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13239. Epub 2016 Apr 29.


The amygdala has been shown to be essential for the processing of acute and learned fear across animal species. However, the downstream neural circuits that mediate these fear responses differ according to the nature of the threat, with separate pathways having been identified for predator, conspecific and physically harmful threats. In particular, the dorsomedial part of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VHMdm) is critical for the expression of defensive responses to predators. Here, we tested the hypothesis that this circuit also participates in predator fear memory by transient pharmacogenetic inhibition of the VMHdm and its downstream effector, the dorsal periaqueductal grey, during predator fear learning in the mouse. Our data demonstrate that neural activity in the VMHdm is required for both the acquisition and recall of predator fear memory, whereas that of its downstream effector, the dorsal periaqueductal grey, is required only for the acute expression of fear. These findings are consistent with a role for the medial hypothalamus in encoding an internal emotional state of fear.

Keywords: DREADD; emotion; fear memory; hypothalamic medial zone; ventromedial hypothalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Female
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Periaqueductal Gray / physiology
  • Ventromedial Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology*