Projection from the Anterior Cingulate Cortex to the Lateral Part of Mediodorsal Thalamus Modulates Vicarious Freezing Behavior

  • Chaowen Zheng
  • Yanwang Huang
  • Binshi Bo
  • Lei Wei
  • Zhifeng Liang
  • Zuoren WangEmail author
Original Article


Emotional contagion, a primary form of empathy, is present in rodents. Among emotional contagion behaviors, social transmission of fear is the most studied. Here, we modified a paradigm used in previous studies to more robustly assess the social transmission of fear in rats that experienced foot-shock. We used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to show that foot-shock experience enhances the regional connectivity of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). We found that lesioning the ACC specifically attenuated the vicarious freezing behavior of foot-shock-experienced observer rats. Furthermore, ablation of projections from the ACC to the mediodorsal thalamus (MDL) bilaterally delayed the vicarious freezing responses, and activation of these projections decreased the vicarious freezing responses. Overall, our results demonstrate that, in rats, the ACC modulates vicarious freezing behavior via a projection to the MDL and provide clues to understanding the mechanisms underlying empathic behavior in humans.


Rat Empathy Vicarious freezing Neuronal circuit 



We thank Dr. Dingcheng Wu for help in data analysis. We are also grateful for technical support from the Optical Imaging Facility and the Animal Facility of the Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences. This work was supported in part by The National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFB1300200, 2017YFB1300203) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (61627808).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationship that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, CAS 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chaowen Zheng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yanwang Huang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Binshi Bo
    • 1
  • Lei Wei
    • 1
  • Zhifeng Liang
    • 1
  • Zuoren Wang
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Neuroscience, State Key Laboratory of Neuroscience, CAS Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence TechnologyChinese Academy of SciencesShanghaiChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.School of Future TechnologyUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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