Rachel O’Sullivan

UC San Francisco

“Understanding the mechanisms by which vCA1 orchestrates avoidance behavior”

One of the most well-studied properties of the vCA1 region of the ventral hippocampus is its capacity to represent experiences imbued with the motivation to avoid. vCA1 encodes representations of innately anxiogenic environments, drives avoidance of these areas, and is necessary for many forms of fear learning. But the extent to which this circuitry contributes to avoidance behavior is unknown. One question that has been severely underexplored: how does vCA1 orchestrate avoidance of learned cues that predict aversive outcomes? I aim to fill in this knowledge gap by determining (1) the impact of vCA1 disruption on learned avoidance behavior and (2) the dynamics of vCA1 as mice engage in this behavior. Given that excessive avoidance is a characteristic feature of most human anxiety disorders, and the anterior hippocampus in humans (analogous to the ventral hippocampus in rodents) is similarly implicated in driving avoidance, this research could provide direction for future therapeutic interventions treating the human anxiety state.


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

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