All Publications

  • Human Responses to Visually Evoked Threat. Current biology : CB Yilmaz Balban, M. n., Cafaro, E. n., Saue-Fletcher, L. n., Washington, M. J., Bijanzadeh, M. n., Lee, A. M., Chang, E. F., Huberman, A. D. 2020


    Vision is the primary sense humans use to evaluate and respond to threats. Understanding the biological underpinnings of the human threat response has been hindered by lack of realistic in-lab threat paradigms. We established an immersive virtual reality (VR) platform to simultaneously measure behavior, physiological state, and neural activity from the human brain using chronically implanted electrodes. Subjects with high anxiety showed increased visual scanning in response to threats as compared to healthy controls. In both healthy and anxious subjects, the amount of scanning behavior correlated with the magnitude of physiological arousal, suggesting that visual scanning behavior is directly linked to internal state. Intracranial electroencephalography (iEEG) recordings from three subjects suggested that high-frequency gamma activity in the insula positively correlates with physiological arousal induced by visual threats and that low-frequency theta activity in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) negatively correlates with physiological arousal induced by visual threats. These findings reveal a key role of eye movements and suggest that distinct insula and OFC activation dynamics may be important for detecting and adjusting human stress in response to visually perceived threats.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2020.11.035

    View details for PubMedID 33242389

  • Ventromedial hypothalamic neurons control a defensive emotion state ELIFE Kunwar, P. S., Zelikowsky, M., Remedios, R., Cai, H., Yilmaz, M., Meister, M., Anderson, D. J. 2015; 4


    Defensive behaviors reflect underlying emotion states, such as fear. The hypothalamus plays a role in such behaviors, but prevailing textbook views depict it as an effector of upstream emotion centers, such as the amygdala, rather than as an emotion center itself. We used optogenetic manipulations to probe the function of a specific hypothalamic cell type that mediates innate defensive responses. These neurons are sufficient to drive multiple defensive actions, and required for defensive behaviors in diverse contexts. The behavioral consequences of activating these neurons, moreover, exhibit properties characteristic of emotion states in general, including scalability, (negative) valence, generalization and persistence. Importantly, these neurons can also condition learned defensive behavior, further refuting long-standing claims that the hypothalamus is unable to support emotional learning and therefore is not an emotion center. These data indicate that the hypothalamus plays an integral role to instantiate emotion states, and is not simply a passive effector of upstream emotion centers.

    View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.06633

    View details for Web of Science ID 000351864100001

    View details for PubMedID 25748136

  • Rapid Innate Defensive Responses of Mice to Looming Visual Stimuli CURRENT BIOLOGY Yilmaz, M., Meister, M. 2013; 23 (20): 2011-2015


    Much of brain science is concerned with understanding the neural circuits that underlie specific behaviors. While the mouse has become a favorite experimental subject, the behaviors of this species are still poorly explored. For example, the mouse retina, like that of other mammals, contains ∼20 different circuits that compute distinct features of the visual scene [1, 2]. By comparison, only a handful of innate visual behaviors are known in this species--the pupil reflex [3], phototaxis [4], the optomotor response [5], and the cliff response [6]--two of which are simple reflexes that require little visual processing. We explored the behavior of mice under a visual display that simulates an approaching object, which causes defensive reactions in some other species [7, 8]. We show that mice respond to this stimulus either by initiating escape within a second or by freezing for an extended period. The probability of these defensive behaviors is strongly dependent on the parameters of the visual stimulus. Directed experiments identify candidate retinal circuits underlying the behavior and lead the way into detailed study of these neural pathways. This response is a new addition to the repertoire of innate defensive behaviors in the mouse that allows the detection and avoidance of aerial predators.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2013.08.015

    View details for Web of Science ID 000326317300022

    View details for PubMedID 24120636