The ability to recognize and avoid noxious stimuli is essential for survival. The factors that determine whether a given stimulus is considered positive or negative are complex and not fully understood. In this issue of the JCI, Klawonn and colleagues demonstrate that melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) signaling is critical for proper responses to negative stimuli. Mice lacking MC4R were shown to have a surprising preference for aversive stimuli compared with WT animals. Moreover, the authors provide evidence that avoidance behaviors are mediated by hypothalamic POMC neurons signaling to striatal dopamine D1 receptor–expressing medium spiny neurons. Together, these results provide important insight into the regulation of responses to aversive stimuli.
Alexandra G. DiFeliceantonio, Paul J. Kenny