In the face of starvation, animals will engage in high-risk behaviors that would normally be considered maladaptive. Starving rodents, for example, will forage in areas that are more susceptible to predators and will also modulate aggressive behavior within a territory of limited or depleted nutrients. The neural basis of these adaptive behaviors likely involves circuits that link innate feeding, aggression and fear. Hypothalamic agouti-related peptide (AgRP)-expressing neurons are critically important for driving feeding and project axons to brain regions implicated in aggression and fear. Using circuit-mapping techniques in mice, we define a disynaptic network originating from a subset of AgRP neurons that project to the medial nucleus of the amygdala and then to the principal bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, which suppresses territorial aggression and reduces contextual fear. We propose that AgRP neurons serve as a master switch capable of coordinating behavioral decisions relative to internal state and environmental cues.
ASJC Scopus subject areas