Social conflict resolution regulated by two dorsal habenular subregions in zebrafish

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Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 87-90
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac9508

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How to win a fish fight

When to cease aggression and escape is an important decision that fighting animals must make. Chou et al. characterized the role of two nuclei in a brain area of the zebrafish called the dorsal habenula (dHb) during social aggression (see the Perspective by Desban and Wyart). Silencing the lateral dHb reduced the likelihood of winning a fight, whereas silencing the medial dHb increased the likelihood of winning. Thus, these two nuclei antagonistically control the threshold for surrender.

Science, this issue p. 87; see also p. 42


When animals encounter conflict they initiate and escalate aggression to establish and maintain a social hierarchy. The neural mechanisms by which animals resolve fighting behaviors to determine such social hierarchies remain unknown. We identified two subregions of the dorsal habenula (dHb) in zebrafish that antagonistically regulate the outcome of conflict. The losing experience reduced neural transmission in the lateral subregion of dHb (dHbL)–dorsal/intermediate interpeduncular nucleus (d/iIPN) circuit. Silencing of the dHbL or medial subregion of dHb (dHbM) caused a stronger predisposition to lose or win a fight, respectively. These results demonstrate that the dHbL and dHbM comprise a dual control system for conflict resolution of social aggression.

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