An approximate line attractor in the hypothalamus encodes an aggressive state

Aditya Nair, Tomomi Karigo, Bin Yang, Surya Ganguli, Mark J. Schnitzer, Scott W. Linderman, David J. Anderson*, Ann Kennedy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The hypothalamus regulates innate social behaviors, including mating and aggression. These behaviors can be evoked by optogenetic stimulation of specific neuronal subpopulations within MPOA and VMHvl, respectively. Here, we perform dynamical systems modeling of population neuronal activity in these nuclei during social behaviors. In VMHvl, unsupervised analysis identified a dominant dimension of neural activity with a large time constant (>50 s), generating an approximate line attractor in neural state space. Progression of the neural trajectory along this attractor was correlated with an escalation of agonistic behavior, suggesting that it may encode a scalable state of aggressiveness. Consistent with this, individual differences in the magnitude of the integration dimension time constant were strongly correlated with differences in aggressiveness. In contrast, approximate line attractors were not observed in MPOA during mating; instead, neurons with fast dynamics were tuned to specific actions. Thus, different hypothalamic nuclei employ distinct neural population codes to represent similar social behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-193.e15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 5 2023


  • MPOA
  • VMH
  • aggression
  • calcium imaging
  • courtship
  • dynamical systems
  • hypothalamus
  • innate behavior
  • line attractor
  • rSLDS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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