Striatopallidal neurons control avoidance behavior in exploratory tasks

Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Feb;25(2):491-505. doi: 10.1038/s41380-018-0051-3. Epub 2018 Apr 25.


The dorsal striatum has been linked to decision-making under conflict, but the mechanism by which striatal neurons contribute to approach-avoidance conflicts remains unclear. We hypothesized that striatopallidal dopamine D2 receptor (D2R)-expressing neurons promote avoidance, and tested this hypothesis in two exploratory approach-avoidance conflict paradigms in mice: the elevated zero maze and open field. Genetic elimination of D2Rs on striatopallidal neurons (iMSNs), but not other neural populations, increased avoidance of the open areas in both tasks, in a manner that was dissociable from global changes in movement. Population calcium activity of dorsomedial iMSNs was disrupted in mice lacking D2Rs on iMSNs, suggesting that disrupted output of iMSNs contributes to heightened avoidance behavior. Consistently, artificial disruption of iMSN output with optogenetic stimulation heightened avoidance of open areas of these tasks, while inhibition of iMSN output reduced avoidance. We conclude that dorsomedial striatal iMSNs control approach-avoidance conflicts in exploratory tasks, and highlight this neural population as a potential target for reducing avoidance in anxiety disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / metabolism
  • Habits
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Optogenetics / methods
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder


  • Receptors, Dopamine D2