Innate behaviors are genetically encoded, but their underlying molecular mechanisms remain largely unknown. Predator odor 2,4,5-trimethyl-3-thiazoline (TMT) and its potent analog 2-methyl-2-thiazoline (2MT) are believed to activate specific odorant receptors to elicit innate fear/defensive behaviors in naive mice. Here, we conduct a large-scale recessive genetics screen of ethylnitrosourea (ENU)-mutagenized mice. We find that loss of Trpa1, a pungency/irritancy receptor, diminishes TMT/2MT and snake skin-evoked innate fear/defensive responses. Accordingly, Trpa1 -/- mice fail to effectively activate known fear/stress brain centers upon 2MT exposure, despite their apparent ability to smell and learn to fear 2MT. Moreover, Trpa1 acts as a chemosensor for 2MT/TMT and Trpa1-expressing trigeminal ganglion neurons contribute critically to 2MT-evoked freezing. Our results indicate that Trpa1-mediated nociception plays a crucial role in predator odor-evoked innate fear/defensive behaviors. The work establishes the first forward genetics screen to uncover the molecular mechanism of innate fear, a basic emotion and evolutionarily conserved survival mechanism.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Chemistry
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Physics and Astronomy