•Neurons in cortex and amygdala respond to cues that predict shock to another mouse
•Cortex → amygdala neurons preferentially represent socially derived information
•Cortical input to amygdala instructs encoding of observationally learned cues
•Corticoamygdala inhibition impairs observational learning and social interactionSummary
Observational learning is a powerful survival tool allowing individuals to learn about threat-predictive stimuli without directly experiencing the pairing of the predictive cue and punishment. This ability has been linked to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the basolateral amygdala (BLA). To investigate how information is encoded and transmitted through this circuit, we performed electrophysiological recordings in mice observing a demonstrator mouse undergo associative fear conditioning and found that BLA-projecting ACC (ACC→BLA) neurons preferentially encode socially derived aversive cue information. Inhibition of ACC→BLA alters real-time amygdala representation of the aversive cue during observational conditioning. Selective inhibition of the ACC→BLA projection impaired acquisition, but not expression, of observational fear conditioning. We show that information derived from observation about the aversive value of the cue is transmitted from the ACC to the BLA and that this routing of information is critically instructive for observational fear conditioning.
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