Looking for modulatory brain areas in the visual circuit related to freezing behaviour
Maria Roa
NERF (Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders), Belgium

Aim: I have been studying a visual circuit that is known to trigger freezing: the connection between the Retina, the Superior Colliculus and the Parabigeminal Grey. The aim of this investigation is to look for cerebral nuclei that could be inputs of the SC and, therefore, regulate this behaviour. In other words, it is a search for modulatory brain areas in the circuit: RetinaSCPBg.

Introduction: Information supplied by the retina initiates interactions in the brain that eventually lead to conscious perception of the visual scene, conventional reflexes such as adjusting the size of the pupil or triggering certain behaviours. Innate defensive behaviours evoked by threatening stimuli are essential to survival. When a danger suddenly appears, a mouse can either scape or freeze. I am interested in how the visual world cause freezing and why.

Methods: The tracing strategy used is based on two injections (stereotaxic surgery) with two different retrograde viruses. The first injection is in the PBg with a modified HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) and the second one, 21 days later, with RVdG (Rabies Virus G-deleted) in the SC. The combined characteristics of these viruses allowed me to specifically follow the circuit. After perfusing the animals, slicing the brains and staining with specific antibodies attached to fluorochromes, I took images with a fluorescent confocal microscope.

Results: With a pertinent image processing and comparison with the brain atlas, I was able to identify which brain areas were mostly labelled: zona incerta, substantia nigra and L5 in V1 (visual cortex).

Conclusion: It is known that these three nuclei are involved in other visual pathways but this finding suggest that they also could have a role in freezing response to a visual stimulus. The current work is now focused on finding out how each one participates in modulating the behaviour.

Acknowledgements: This thesis is going to be evaluated by the University of Barcelona and it is supported by the KU Leuven, the experiments were performed at NERF (Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders) in the Karl Farrow's Laboratory.

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