Divergent outputs of the ventral lateral geniculate nucleus mediate visually evoked defensive behaviors
Rapid alternations between exploration and defensive reactions require ongoing risk assessment. How visual cues and internal states flexibly modulate the selection of behaviors remains incompletely understood. Here, we show that the ventral lateral geniculate nucleus (vLGN)—a major retinorecipient structure—is a critical node in the network controlling defensive behaviors to visual threats. We find that vLGNGABA neuron activity scales with the intensity of environmental illumination and is modulated by behavioral state. Chemogenetic activation of vLGNGABA neurons reduces freezing, whereas inactivation dramatically extends the duration of freezing to visual threats. Perturbations of vLGN activity disrupt exploration in brightly illuminated environments. We describe both a vLGN→nucleus reuniens (Re) circuit and a vLGN→superior colliculus (SC) circuit, which exert opposite influences on defensive responses. These findings reveal roles for genetic- and projection-defined vLGN subpopulations in modulating the expression of behavioral threat responses according to internal state.