Indexed on: 15 Feb '17Published on: 15 Feb '17Published in: The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Foraging animals balance the need to seek food and energy against the accompanying dangers of injury and predation. To do so, they rely on learning systems encoding reward and danger. Whereas much is known about these separate learning systems, little is known about how they interact to shape and guide behavior. Here we show a key role for the rat paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT), a nucleus of the dorsal midline thalamus, in this interaction. First we show behavioral competition between reward and danger: the opportunity to seek food reward negatively modulates expression of species-typical defensive behavior. Then, using a chemogenetic approach expressing the inhibitory hM4Di DREADD in PVT neurons, we show that PVT is central to this behavioral competition. Chemogenetic PVT silencing biases behavior towards either defense or reward depending on the experimental conditions, but does not consistently favor expression of one over the other. This bias could not be attributed to changes in fear memory retrieval, learned safety, or memory interference. Rather, our results demonstrate that PVT is essential for balancing conflicting behavioral tendencies towards danger and reward, enabling adaptive responding under this basic selection pressure.Significance statementAmong the most basic survival problems faced by animals is balancing the need to seek food and energy against the accompanying dangers of injury and predation. Although much is known about the brain mechanisms that underpin learning about reward and danger, little is known about how these interact to solve basic survival problems. Here we show competition between defensive (to avoid predatory detection) and approach (to obtain food) behavior. We show that the paraventricular thalamus, a nucleus of the dorsal midline thalamus, is integral to this behavioral competition. Paraventricular thalamus balances the competing behavioral demands of danger and reward, enabling adaptive responding under this selection pressure.