Intense threat switches dorsal raphe serotonin neurons to a paradoxical operational mode

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Science  01 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6426, pp. 538-542
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8722

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Flipping behavior under threat

Could it be that the brain in a state of emergency or under intense threat operates in a fundamentally different way? Seo et al. found that mice paused when serotonin neurons were transiently stimulated in low- or medium-threat environments, but when this same neural population was stimulated in high-threat environments, mice tried to escape. Recordings from these neurons indicated that movement-related neural tuning flipped between environments. Neural activity decreased when movement was initiated in low-threat environments but increased in high-threat environments.

Science, this issue p. 538


Survival depends on the selection of behaviors adaptive for the current environment. For example, a mouse should run from a rapidly looming hawk but should freeze if the hawk is coasting across the sky. Although serotonin has been implicated in adaptive behavior, environmental regulation of its functional role remains poorly understood. In mice, we found that stimulation of dorsal raphe serotonin neurons suppressed movement in low- and moderate-threat environments but induced escape behavior in high-threat environments, and that movement-related dorsal raphe serotonin neural dynamics inverted in high-threat environments. Stimulation of dorsal raphe γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons promoted movement in negative but not positive environments, and movement-related GABA neural dynamics inverted between positive and negative environments. Thus, dorsal raphe circuits switch between distinct operational modes to promote environment-specific adaptive behaviors.

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