In vivo electrophysiological recordings in amygdala subnuclei reveal selective and distinct responses to a behaviorally identified predator odor Academic Article uri icon


  • Chemosensory cues signaling predators reliably stimulate innate defensive responses in rodents. Despite the well-documented role of the amygdala in predator odor-induced fear, evidence for the relative contribution of the specific nuclei that comprise this structurally heterogeneous structure is conflicting. In an effort to clarify this we examined neural activity, via electrophysiological recordings, in amygdala subnuclei to controlled and repeated presentations of a predator odor: cat urine. Defensive behaviors, characterized by avoidance, decreased exploration, and increased risk assessment, were observed in adult male hooded Wistar rats ( n = 11) exposed to a cloth impregnated with cat urine. Electrophysiological recordings of the amygdala (777 multiunit clusters) were subsequently obtained in freely breathing anesthetized rats exposed to cat urine, distilled water, and eugenol via an air-dilution olfactometer. Recorded units selectively responded to cat urine, and frequencies of responses were distributed differently across amygdala nuclei; medial amygdala (MeA) demonstrated the greatest frequency of responses to cat urine (51.7%), followed by the basolateral and basomedial nuclei (18.8%) and finally the central amygdala (3.0%). Temporally, information transduction occurred primarily from the cortical amygdala and MeA (ventral divisions) to other amygdala nuclei. Interestingly, MeA subnuclei exhibited distinct firing patterns to predator urine, potentially revealing aspects of the underlying neurocircuitry of predator odor processing and defensiveness. These findings highlight the critical involvement of the MeA in processing olfactory cues signaling predator threat and converge with previous studies to indicate that amygdala regulation of predator odor-induced fear is restricted to a particular set of subnuclei that primarily include the MeA, particularly the ventral divisions.

publication date

  • 2015