Aggression is a costly behavior, sometimes with severe consequences including death. Yet aggression is prevalent across animal species ranging from insects to humans, demonstrating its essential role in the survival of individuals and groups. The question of how the brain decides when to generate this costly behavior has intrigued neuroscientists for over a century and has led to the identification of relevant neural substrates. Various lesion and electric stimulation experiments have revealed that the hypothalamus, an ancient structure situated deep in the brain, is essential for expressing aggressive behaviors. More recently, studies using precise circuit manipulation tools have identified a small subnucleus in the medial hypothalamus, the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvl), as a key structure for driving both aggression and aggression-seeking behaviors. Here, we provide an updated summary of the evidence that supports a role of the VMHvl in aggressive behaviors. We will consider our recent findings detailing the physiological response properties of populations of VMHvl cells during aggressive behaviors and provide new understanding regarding the role of the VMHvl embedded within the larger whole-brain circuit for social sensation and action.
Keywords: VMHvl; aggression; mouse; neural activity; neuromodulation.