Nat. Neurosci. 26 (7) 1245-1255 [2023-07-00; online 2023-06-22]
Excitatory projections from the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) to the lateral habenula (LHb) drive aversive responses. We used patch-sequencing (Patch-seq) guided multimodal classification to define the structural and functional heterogeneity of the LHA-LHb pathway. Our classification identified six glutamatergic neuron types with unique electrophysiological properties, molecular profiles and projection patterns. We found that genetically defined LHA-LHb neurons signal distinct aspects of emotional or naturalistic behaviors, such as estrogen receptor 1-expressing (Esr1+) LHA-LHb neurons induce aversion, whereas neuropeptide Y-expressing (Npy+) LHA-LHb neurons control rearing behavior. Repeated optogenetic drive of Esr1+ LHA-LHb neurons induces a behaviorally persistent aversive state, and large-scale recordings showed a region-specific neural representation of the aversive signals in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex. We further found that exposure to unpredictable mild shocks induced a sex-specific sensitivity to develop a stress state in female mice, which was associated with a specific shift in the intrinsic properties of bursting-type Esr1+ LHA-LHb neurons. In summary, we describe the diversity of LHA-LHb neuron types and provide evidence for the role of Esr1+ neurons in aversion and sexually dimorphic stress sensitivity.