Learning shapes the aversion and reward responses of lateral habenula neurons

Elife. 2017 May 31:6:e23045. doi: 10.7554/eLife.23045.


The lateral habenula (LHb) is believed to encode negative motivational values. It remains unknown how LHb neurons respond to various stressors and how learning shapes their responses. Here, we used fiber-photometry and electrophysiology to track LHb neuronal activity in freely-behaving mice. Bitterness, pain, and social attack by aggressors intensively excite LHb neurons. Aversive Pavlovian conditioning induced activation by the aversion-predicting cue in a few trials. The experience of social defeat also conditioned excitatory responses to previously neutral social stimuli. In contrast, fiber photometry and single-unit recordings revealed that sucrose reward inhibited LHb neurons and often produced excitatory rebound. It required prolonged conditioning and high reward probability to induce inhibition by reward-predicting cues. Therefore, LHb neurons can bidirectionally process a diverse array of aversive and reward signals. Importantly, their responses are dynamically shaped by learning, suggesting that the LHb participates in experience-dependent selection of behavioral responses to stressors and rewards.

Keywords: Pavlovian conditioning; fiber photometry; mouse; neuroscience; punishment; reward; single-unit recordings; social defeat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Cues
  • Habenula / physiology*
  • Learning*
  • Mice
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reward

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.