Defensive Behaviors Driven by a Hypothalamic-Ventral Midbrain Circuit

eNeuro. 2019 Jul 29;6(4):ENEURO.0156-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0156-19.2019. Print 2019 Jul/Aug.


The paraventricular hypothalamus (PVH) regulates stress, feeding behaviors and other homeostatic processes, but whether PVH also drives defensive states remains unknown. Here we showed that photostimulation of PVH neurons in mice elicited escape jumping, a typical defensive behavior. We mapped PVH outputs that densely terminate in the ventral midbrain (vMB) area, and found that activation of the PVH→vMB circuit produced profound defensive behavioral changes, including escape jumping, hiding, hyperlocomotion, and learned aversion. Electrophysiological recordings showed excitatory postsynaptic input onto vMB neurons via PVH fiber activation, and in vivo studies demonstrated that glutamate transmission from PVH→vMB was required for the evoked behavioral responses. Photostimulation of PVH→vMB fibers induced cFos expression mainly in non-dopaminergic neurons. Using a dual optogenetic-chemogenetic strategy, we further revealed that escape jumping and hiding were partially contributed by the activation of midbrain glutamatergic neurons. Taken together, our work unveils a hypothalamic-vMB circuit that encodes defensive properties, which may be implicated in stress-induced defensive responses.

Keywords: PVH; feeding; glutamate; grooming; jumping; midbrain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Eating / physiology
  • Escape Reaction / physiology*
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Optogenetics
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / cytology
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology*


  • Glutamic Acid