Hierarchical Representations of Aggression in a Hypothalamic-Midbrain Circuit

Annegret L. Falkner, Dongyu Wei, Anjeli Song, Li W. Watsek, Irene Chen, Patricia Chen, James E. Feng, Dayu Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Although the ventromedial hypothalamus ventrolateral area (VMHvl) is now well established as a critical locus for the generation of conspecific aggression, its role is complex, with neurons responding during multiple phases of social interactions with both males and females. It has been previously unclear how the brain uses this complex multidimensional signal and coordinates a discrete action: the attack. Here, we find a hypothalamic-midbrain circuit that represents hierarchically organized social signals during aggression. Optogenetic-assisted circuit mapping reveals a preferential projection from VMHvlvGlut2 to lPAGvGlut2 cells, and inactivation of downstream lPAGvGlut2 populations results in aggression-specific deficits. lPAG neurons are selective for attack action and exhibit short-latency, time-locked spiking relative to the activity of jaw muscles during biting. Last, we find that this projection conveys male-biased signals from the VMHvl to downstream lPAGvGlut2 neurons that are sensitive to features of ongoing activity, suggesting that action selectivity is generated by a combination of pre- and postsynaptic mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)637-648.e6
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 20 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • aggression
  • circuit
  • hypothalamus
  • jaw muscle
  • periaqueductal gray
  • social behavior


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