Monday, June 12, 2017
Scientists illuminate the neurons of social attraction - NEUROSCIENCE
The ancient impulse to procreate is necessary for survival and must be hardwired into our brains. Now scientists from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have discovered an important clue about the neurons involved in that wiring.
Using advanced deep brain imaging techniques and optogenetics, the UNC scientists found that a small cluster of sex-hormone-sensitive neurons in the mouse hypothalamus are specialized for inducing mice to “notice” the opposite sex and trigger attraction.
This study, led by Garret D. Stuber, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and cell biology & physiology, and Jenna A. McHenry, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in Stuber’s lab, identified a hormone-sensitive circuit in the brain that controls social motivation in female mice.
“These neurons essentially take sensory and hormonal signals and translate them into motivated social behavior,” said Stuber, who is also a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center.
The findings, reported in Nature Neuroscience, illuminate the neural roots of opposite-sex social behavior in mammals, and may also be relevant to certain psychiatric illnesses.
These are neurotensin cells in the medial preoptic brain area, imaged by Jenna McHenry, PhD, through a 2-photon microscope attached to a live mouse.