Rachel O’Sullivan

UC San Francisco

“Understanding the mechanisms by which vCA1 orchestrates avoidance behavior”

I study how the vCA1 region of the ventral hippocampus orchestrates appropriate avoidance responses as animals navigate a variety of anxiogenic environments.


The decision to approach or avoid an external stimulus is not trivial, and execution of the appropriate action is essential to an animal’s survival; consider the competing drives to explore a novel environment in order to attain food or to stay hidden in order to avoid predation. The strengths of these conflicting motivations must be weighed and the outcomes that could result from considered actions must be evaluated; ultimately a computation is performed, and an animal engages in a specific behavior. The vCA1 region of the ventral hippocampus is a central node in a network that links external stimuli with internal motivational drive states, but the mechanisms by which vCA1 orchestrates appropriate avoidance responses is unknown. I aim to fill in this knowledge gap by determining (1) the dynamics of vCA1 as animals navigate approach-avoid conflicts and (2) the effect of vCA1 activity on behavioral expression during these conflicts.

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