Brain circuitry linked to social connection and desire to cuddle

Guest post from Neuroscience graduate student Amielle Moreno.

Why do scientists know more about the brain during fear than love? Behaviors such as startling and freezing in response to a fearful stimulus are rapid, vary little between subjects, and are easy to interpret. Things get messy when individuals show variability. Social behavior, like intimate partner selection and mating, has a lot of variability. To researchers willing to explore the neuroscience of love and mating, the stage is set for major discoveries.

A recent research study published in Nature from the Liu and Young laboratories at Emory and Yerkes uncovered a dynamic conversation between two brain regions during intimate behavior. The new findings in prairie voles explore the brain connections behind social connections. Dr. Robert Liu is a NS faculty member and Dr. Larry Young is faculty member in the NS and PBEE programs.

Scientists rely on the similarities between humans and laboratory animals to examine the mechanisms that control behavior. Just like humans, prairie voles are capable of consistently forming social bonds with mating partners, a rare trait in the animal kingdom. Scientists in this study used voles as a model for interpersonal connection or social bonding, a connection between individuals strengthened by sex and measured by a desire to be close to one’s partner. Growing from a rich literature on negative valence, the use of this monogamous animal system allows scientists to examine the neuro circuitry of complex positive social interactions.

Click here to view the full story in Lab Land - The Emory Health Sciences Research Blog.