Frontostriatal Projections Regulate Innate Avoidance Behavior

J Neurosci. 2021 Jun 23;41(25):5487-5501. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2581-20.2021. Epub 2021 May 17.


The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) has been linked to avoidance and decision-making under conflict, key neural computations altered in anxiety disorders. However, the heterogeneity of prefrontal projections has obscured identification of specific top-down projections involved. While the dmPFC-amygdala circuit has long been implicated in controlling reflexive fear responses, recent work suggests that dmPFC-dorsomedial striatum (DMS) projections may be more important for regulating avoidance. Using fiber photometry recordings in both male and female mice during the elevated zero maze task, we show heightened neural activity in frontostriatal but not frontoamygdalar projection neurons during exploration of the anxiogenic open arms. Additionally, using optogenetics, we demonstrate that this frontostriatal projection preferentially excites postsynaptic D1 receptor-expressing neurons in the DMS and causally controls innate avoidance behavior. These results support a model for prefrontal control of defensive behavior in which the dmPFC-amygdala projection controls reflexive fear behavior and the dmPFC-striatum projection controls anxious avoidance behavior.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The medial prefrontal cortex has been extensively linked to several behavioral symptom domains related to anxiety disorders, with much of the work centered around reflexive fear responses. Comparatively little is known at the mechanistic level about anxious avoidance behavior, a core feature across anxiety disorders. Recent work has suggested that the striatum may be an important hub for regulating avoidance behaviors. Our work uses optical circuit dissection techniques to identify a specific corticostriatal circuit involved in encoding and controlling avoidance behavior. Identifying neural circuits for avoidance will enable the development of more targeted symptom-specific treatments for anxiety disorders.

Keywords: amygdala; anxiety; avoidance; prefrontal cortex; striatum.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Instinct
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*