We contributed to Jercog et al. study (Nature, 2021) showing that adaptive selection of defensive responses who relies on a dynamic process of information linking threats with defensive actions, unfolding within prefrontal networks.
Dynamical prefrontal population coding during defensive behaviours
Coping with threatening situations requires both identifying stimuli that predict danger and selecting adaptive behavioural responses to survive1. The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) is a critical structure that is involved in the regulation of threat-related behaviour2-4. However, it is unclear how threat-predicting stimuli and defensive behaviours are associated within prefrontal networks to successfully drive adaptive responses. Here we used a combination of extracellular recordings, neuronal decoding approaches, pharmacological and optogenetic manipulations to show that, in mice, threat representations and the initiation of avoidance behaviour are dynamically encoded in the overall population activity of dmPFC neurons. Our data indicate that although dmPFC population activity at stimulus onset encodes sustained threat representations driven by the amygdala, it does not predict action outcome. By contrast, transient dmPFC population activity before the initiation of action reliably predicts avoided from non-avoided trials. Accordingly, optogenetic inhibition of prefrontal activity constrained the selection of adaptive defensive responses in a time-dependent manner. These results reveal that the adaptive selection of defensive responses relies on a dynamic process of information linking threats with defensive actions, unfolding within prefrontal networks.