Emory researchers closer to cracking neural code of love

A team of neuroscientists from Emory University's Silvio O. Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Cognition has discovered a key connection between areas of the adult female prairie vole's brain reward system that promotes the emergence of pair bonds. Results from this study, published online by Nature, could help efforts to improve social abilities in human disorders with impaired social function, such as autism.

This Conte Center study is the first to find the strength of communication between parts of a corticostriatal circuit in the brain predicts how quickly each female prairie vole becomes affiliative with her partner; prairie voles are socially monogamous and form lifelong bonds with their partners. Additionally, when researchers boosted the communication by using light pulses, the females increased their affiliation toward males, thus further demonstrating the importance of this circuit's activity to pair bonding in prairie voles.

Mentioned in this story are:

Larry Young, PhD, co-author and director of the Conte Center and chief of the Division of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders at Yerkes National Primate Research Center and faculty member in the NS and PBEE programs;

Robert Liu, PhD, senior author, associate professor in Emory's Department of Biology and NS faculty member; and

Zack Johnson, PhD, co-lead author and past NS student who attained his PhD this year.

Among the additional co-authors are NS graduate students Yong Jun Kwon and Varun Saravanan, and NS faculty member Donald Rainnie, PhD.

Click here to view the full story in the Emory News Center.