Kavli Affiliate: Stefano Fusi, Daniel Salzman
| Authors: Pia-Kelsey O’Neill, Lorenzo Posani, Jozsef Meszaros, Phebe Warren, Carl E. Schoonover, Andrew J.P. Fink, Stefano Fusi and C. Daniel Salzman
Sensory stimuli associated with aversive outcomes can cause multiple behavioral responses related to an animal’s evolving emotional state. We employed chemogenetic inactivation and two-photon imaging to reveal how the basolateral amygdala (BLA) mediates these state changes. Mice were presented stimuli in a virtual burrow, causing two responses reflecting fear and flight to safety: tremble and ingress into the burrow. Inactivation eliminated differential tremble and ingress to aversive and neutral stimuli without eliminating responses themselves. Multiple variables, including stimulus valence and identity, and being in the tremble or ingressed state, typically modulated each neuron’s activity (mixed-selectivity). BLA neural ensembles represented these variables even after neurons with apparent specialized selectivity were eliminated from analyses. Thus, implementing different readouts of BLA ensembles comprised of mixed-selectivity neurons can identify distinct emotional states defined by responses, like tremble for fear and ingress for safety. This mechanism relies on BLA’s representational geometry, not its circuit specialization.