Social interactions require awareness and understanding of the behavior of others. Mirror neurons, cells representing an action by self and others, have been proposed to be integral to the cognitive substrates that enable such awareness and understanding. Mirror neurons of the primate neocortex represent skilled motor tasks, but it is unclear if they are critical for the actions they embody, enable social behaviors, or exist in noncortical regions. We demonstrate that the activity of individual VMHvlPR neurons in the mouse hypothalamus represents aggression performed by self and others. We used a genetically encoded mirror-TRAP strategy to functionally interrogate these aggression-mirroring neurons. We find that their activity is essential for fighting and that forced activation of these cells triggers aggressive displays by mice, even toward their mirror image.
Together, we have discovered a mirroring center in an evolutionarily ancient region that provides a subcortical
cognitive substrate essential for a social behavior.