Leveraging olfaction to study innate behavior in the mouse
Survival behaviors such as aggression, fear, and mating are highly conserved across evolution. Knowing when and how to display survival behavior is essential for fitness and requires neural activity from known brain regions such as the amygdala and hypothalamus. However, the identity of the precise neurons and circuits that generate these survival behaviors remains largely unknown and therefore unstudied. In the mouse, these essential behaviors can be robustly initiated by olfactory cues. We have identified bioactive odors that now enable us to precisely stimulate and identify the circuits across the brain that generate behavior. By manipulating these subsets of neurons that translate a sensory signal into innate behavior we are creating a platform to begin to study the logic of their coding under 'normal' conditions, and how the sensory information elicits variable responses depending on state, gender, or the complexity of the environment.