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Freezing displayed by others is a learned cue of danger resulting from co-experiencing own freezing and shock

AuthorsCruz, Andreia; Heinemans, Mirjam; Márquez, Cristina; Moita, Marta A.
KeywordsSocial behavior
Looming stimulus
Issue Date2020
CitationCurrent Biology 30(6): 1128-1135.e6 (2020)
AbstractSocial cues of threat are widely reported [1, 2, 3], whether actively produced to trigger responses in others such as alarm calls or by-products of an encounter with a predator, like the defensive behaviors themselves such as escape flights [4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]. Although the recognition of social alarm cues is often innate [15, 16, 17], in some instances it requires experience to trigger defensive responses [4, 7]. One mechanism proposed for how learning from self-experience contributes to social behavior is that of auto-conditioning, whereby subjects learn to associate their own behaviors with relevant trigger events. Through this process, the same behaviors, now displayed by others, gain meaning [18, 19] (but see [20]). Although it has been shown that only animals with prior experience with shock display observational freezing [21, 22, 23, 24, 25], suggesting that auto-conditioning could mediate this process, evidence for this hypothesis was lacking. Previously we found that, when a rat freezes, the silence that results from immobility triggers observational freezing in its cage-mate, provided the cage-mate had experienced shocks before [24]. Therefore, in our study, auto-conditioning would correspond to rats learning to associate shock with their own response to it—freezing. Using a combination of behavioral and optogenetic manipulations, here, we show that freezing becomes an alarm cue by a direct association with shock. Our work shows that auto-conditioning can indeed modulate social interactions, expanding the repertoire of cues mediating social information exchange, providing a framework to study how the neural circuits involved in the self-experience of defensive behaviors overlap with the ones involved in socially triggered defensive behaviors.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.01.025
Appears in Collections:(IN) Artículos
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