IDENTIFYING FACTORS INVOLVED IN A MOUSE'S BEHAVIORAL RESPONSE TO A LOOMING VISUAL THREAT
Sarah Sam1, Kyu Lee2, Sean McMahon2, Zeynep Turan2, Markus Meister2.
1Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, 2California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
Studying behaviors triggered by visual stimuli in the mouse could provide insight into the role of visual processes in cognition. Previously, the Meister lab discovered that mice exhibit a defensive behavior in response to a looming stimulus. An expanding black disc is shown above a mouse in a rectangular arena. This stimulus, which simulates an approaching aerial predator, elicits 1 of 2 behavioral responses: the mouse either flees the area to a nest or freezes in place. Despite the fact that these are laboratory mice raised in a controlled setting without any predators, they respond robustly to this stimulus, indicating evolutionary significance in these behaviors. Mice may be using a combination of apparent velocity of the looming stimulus and a cognitive map of its surroundings, among other factors, to decide between freezing and fleeing. Identifying the factors that govern this decision making will help understand the underlying neural circuitry involved in this behavior. We find that fleeing occurs most often when there is a nest present. Mice prefer to flee when the stimulus is presented less than 3 feet from the nest. Finally, we will assess whether the mouse is using a cognitive map of its surroundings to make the decision.