Mating and flight from threats are innate behaviors that enhance species survival [1, 2]. Stimuli to these behaviors often are contemporaneous and conflicting [3, 4]. Both how such conflicts are resolved and where in the brain such decisions are made are poorly understood. For teleosts, olfactory stimuli are key elements of mating and threat responses [5-7]. For example, zebrafish manifest a stereotypical escape response when exposed to an alarm substance released from injured conspecific skin ("skin extract") [8, 9]. We find that when mating, fish ignore this threatening stimulus. Water conditioned by the mating fish ("mating water") suffices to suppress much of the alarm-response behavior. By 2-photon imaging of calcium transients [10], we mapped the regions of the brain responding to skin extract and to mating water. In the telencephalon, we found regions where the responses overlap, one region (medial Dp) to be predominantly activated by skin extract, and another, Vs, to be predominantly activated by mating water. When mating water and skin extract were applied simultaneously, the alarm-specific response was suppressed, while the mating-water-specific response was retained, corresponding to the dominance of mating over flight behavior. The choice made, for reproduction over escape, is opposite to that of mammals, presumably reflecting how the balance affects species survival.
Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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Photo of Mark C. Fishman

Mark C. Fishman’s group studies the heart-brain connection. They employ a range of genetic, developmental, and neurobiological tools in zebrafish to understand what the heart tells the brain, and how critical internal sensory systems adjust homeostatic and somatic behaviors, including social interactions.

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