Experience-dependent plasticity in an innate social behavior is mediated by hypothalamic LTP. uri icon


  • All animals can perform certain survival behaviors without prior experience, suggesting a "hard wiring" of underlying neural circuits. Experience, however, can alter the expression of innate behaviors. Where in the brain and how such plasticity occurs remains largely unknown. Previous studies have established the phenomenon of "aggression training," in which the repeated experience of winning successive aggressive encounters across multiple days leads to increased aggressiveness. Here, we show that this procedure also leads to long-term potentiation (LTP) at an excitatory synapse, derived from the posteromedial part of the amygdalohippocampal area (AHiPM), onto estrogen receptor 1-expressing (Esr1+) neurons in the ventrolateral subdivision of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvl). We demonstrate further that the optogenetic induction of such LTP in vivo facilitates, while optogenetic long-term depression (LTD) diminishes, the behavioral effect of aggression training, implying a causal role for potentiation at AHiPM?VMHvlEsr1 synapses in mediating the effect of this training. Interestingly, ?25% of inbred C57BL/6 mice fail to respond to aggression training. We show that these individual differences are correlated both with lower levels of testosterone, relative to mice that respond to such training, and with a failure to exhibit LTP after aggression training. Administration of exogenous testosterone to such nonaggressive mice restores both behavioral and physiological plasticity. Together, these findings reveal that LTP at a hypothalamic circuit node mediates a form of experience-dependent plasticity in an innate social behavior, and a potential hormone-dependent basis for individual differences in such plasticity among genetically identical mice.

publication date

  • October 13, 2020