Optimally orchestrating complex behavioral states, such as the pursuit and consumption of food, is critical for an organism's survival. The lateral hypothalamus (LH) is a neuroanatomical region essential for appetitive and consummatory behaviors, but whether individual neurons within the LH differentially contribute to these interconnected processes is unknown. Here, we show that selective optogenetic stimulation of a molecularly defined subset of LH GABAergic (Vgat-expressing) neurons enhances both appetitive and consummatory behaviors, whereas genetic ablation of these neurons reduced these phenotypes. Furthermore, this targeted LH subpopulation is distinct from cells containing the feeding-related neuropeptides, melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH), and orexin (Orx). Employing in vivo calcium imaging in freely behaving mice to record activity dynamics from hundreds of cells, we identified individual LH GABAergic neurons that preferentially encode aspects of either appetitive or consummatory behaviors, but rarely both. These tightly regulated, yet highly intertwined, behavioral processes are thus dissociable at the cellular level.
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