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Journal Article

Visual recognition of social signals by a tectothalamic neural circuit


Svara,  Fabian
External Organizations;
Department of Computational Neuroethology, Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology of Behavior – caesar, Max Planck Society;

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Kappel, J. M., Förster, D., Slangewal, K., Shainer, I., Svara, F., Donovan, J. C., et al. (2022). Visual recognition of social signals by a tectothalamic neural circuit. Nature, 608, 146-152. doi:10.1038/s41586-022-04925-5.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-E9D2-2
Social affiliation emerges from individual-level behavioural rules that are driven by conspecific signals1–5. Long-distance attraction and short-distance repulsion, for example, are rules that jointly set a preferred interanimal distance in swarms6–8. However, little is known about their perceptual mechanisms and executive neural circuits3. Here we trace the neuronal response to self-like biological motion9,10, a visual trigger for affiliation in developing zebrafish2,11. Unbiased activity mapping and targeted volumetric two-photon calcium imaging revealed 21 activity hotspots distributed throughout the brain as well as clustered biological-motion-tuned neurons in a multimodal, socially activated nucleus of the dorsal thalamus. Individual dorsal thalamus neurons encode local acceleration of visual stimuli mimicking typical fish kinetics but are insensitive to global or continuous motion. Electron microscopic reconstruction of dorsal thalamus neurons revealed synaptic input from the optic tectum and projections into hypothalamic areas with conserved social function12–14. Ablation of the optic tectum or dorsal thalamus selectively disrupted social attraction without affecting short-distance repulsion. This tectothalamic pathway thus serves visual recognition of conspecifics, and dissociates neuronal control of attraction from repulsion during social affiliation, revealing a circuit underpinning collective behaviour.