Mice Use Their ‘Emotional Brain’ to Stalk, Chomp Prey – Study

Science
Mice Use Their ‘Emotional Brain’ to Stalk, Chomp Prey – Study Lilly on the wall (Tambako The Jaguar/FLICKR) with CC BY-ND 2.0

A recent study showed that mice use their amygdala in stalking and killing their prey. Neuroscientists consider the amygdala as the emotional part of the brain since it controls various emotional functions. But the study yielded information proving that the almond-shape structure is more than that.

Over the past decades, scientists regarded the amygdala as a vital brain structure responsible for emotional processing, including fear and anxiety. But John B. Pierce Laboratory Ivan E. de Araujo, who coauthored the study, noted that the findings suggest that amygdala is a more complex structure. Apart from being the emotional control center, it also plays a vital role in other functions.

De Araujo and his team published their findings in the journal Cell last week, which showed how mice’s amygdala works during hunting. To demonstrate this, the researchers selected a specific group of cells in the mice’s brain sensitive to light, mimicking a presence of a prey. It was revealed that this builds two pathways to amygdala’s central nucleus.

Amygdala in Predatory Behavior

The first pathway is responsible for stalking a prey, and the other is for effectively killing a target. The experiment showed newer pathways associated with amygdala other than its emotional functions. However, the amygdala is also responsible in regulating heart rate when facing fear and anxious-provoking situations. “Here, we reveal a critical role for the central nucleus of the amygdala in predatory hunting. Both optogenetic and chemogenetic stimulation of central amygdala of mice elicited predatory-like attacks upon both insect and artificial prey,” an excerpt of the study reads.

Study Aims

The study aimed to establish the neural mechanism behind the predatory behavior of jawed predators. Although the predatory skill was attributed to the evolutionary success of most predators, the mechanism behind the behavior remained unknown. The current study, though, presents an interesting insight about the predatory skill connects the central nucleus of amygdala.

When the two pathways were severed, the ability of the mice to deliver killer bite on its prey was disturbed. This suggests that the two pathways are indeed responsible for the predatory behavior in mice. Researchers indicate that the same pathways may also be true in other jawed predators other than mice.

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