Naturalistic escape requires versatile context-specific flight with rapid evaluation of local geometry to identify and use efficient escape routes. It is unknown how spatial navigation and escape circuits are recruited to produce context-specific flight. Using mice, we show that activity in cholecystokinin-expressing hypothalamic dorsal premammillary nucleus (PMd-cck) cells is sufficient and necessary for context-specific escape that adapts to each environment's layout. In contrast, numerous other nuclei implicated in flight only induced stereotyped panic-related escape. We reasoned the dorsal premammillary nucleus (PMd) can induce context-specific escape because it projects to escape and spatial navigation nuclei. Indeed, activity in PMd-cck projections to thalamic spatial navigation circuits is necessary for context-specific escape induced by moderate threats but not panic-related stereotyped escape caused by perceived asphyxiation. Conversely, the PMd projection to the escape-inducing dorsal periaqueductal gray projection is necessary for all tested escapes. Thus, PMd-cck cells control versatile flight, engaging spatial navigation and escape circuits.
Keywords: Dorsal premammillary nucleus; Dorsolateral periaqueductal gray; Escape; Fear; Panic; Predator; anterior medial ventral thalamus; calcium imaging; hypercapnia; optogenetics.
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