CELL: DREADDS for deconstructing serotonergic components of innate and learned fear

Fear is induced by innate and learned mechanisms involving separate pathways. Here, we used an olfactory-mediated innate-fear versus learned-fear paradigm to investigate how these pathways are integrated. Notably, prior presentation of innate-fear stimuli inhibited learned-freezing response, but not vice versa. Whole-brain mapping and pharmacological screening indicated that serotonin-2A receptor (Htr2a)-expressing cells in the central amygdala (CeA) control both innate and learned freezing, but in opposing directions. In vivo fiber photometry analyses in freely moving mice indicated that innate but not learned-fear stimuli suppressed the activity of Htr2a-expressing CeA cells. Artificial inactivation of these cells upregulated innate-freezing response and downregulated learned-freezing response. Thus, Htr2a-expressing CeA cells serve as a hierarchy generator, prioritizing innate fear over learned fear.