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CRH neurons match behavior to context after stress

All organisms possess innate behavioral and physiological programs that ensure survival. In order to have maximum adaptive benefit, these programs must be sufficiently flexible to account for changes in the environment. We have recently shown that hypothalamic CRH neurons orchestrate an environmentally-flexible repertoire of behaviors that emerge after acute stress in mice. Optical silencing of CRH neurons disrupts the organization of individual behaviors after acute stress. These behavioral patterns shift according to the environment after stress, but this environmental sensitivity is blunted by activation of PVN CRH neurons. These findings provide evidence that PVN CRH cells are part of a previously unexplored circuit that matches precise behavioral patterns to environmental context following stress. Overactivity in this network in the absence of stress may contribute to environmental ambivalence, resulting in context-inappropriate behavioral strategies that shift the balance from pro-social, exploratory behavior and self-focused repetitive, stereotyped behavior. These findings may provide insights into why some individuals, particularly after stress, ignore their surroundings and turn their focus towards self-directed, internally focused, stereotyped behaviour. Specifically, intense inward focus is a core feature in autism spectrum disorder, depression and anxiety. This paper was published in Nature Communications