The neural basis of defensive behaviors continues to attract much interest, not only because they are important for survival but also because their dysregulation may be at the origin of anxiety disorders. Recently, a dominant approach in the field has been the optogenetic manipulation of specific circuits or cell types within these circuits to dissect their role in different defensive behaviors. While the usefulness of optogenetics is unquestionable, we argue that this method, as currently applied, fosters an atomistic conceptualization of defensive behaviors, which hinders progress in understanding the integrated responses of nervous systems to threats. Instead, we advocate for a holistic approach to the problem, including observational study of natural behaviors and their neuronal correlates at multiple sites, coupled to the use of optogenetics, not to globally turn on or off neurons of interest, but to manipulate specific activity patterns hypothesized to regulate defensive behaviors. Headley et al. argue that optogenetic methods and popular behavioral paradigms foster an atomistic conceptualization of defensive behaviors. They advocate for adopting tasks with greater behavioral richness that evoke diverse neuronal correlates, with manipulations tailored to these specific activity patterns.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- defensive behaviors
- medial prefrontal cortex