For immediate release
Studies Pinpoint Circuits, Hormones, and Brain Regions Involved in Social Behavior
Nov 13, 2016SAN DIEGO — In all animals, neural mechanisms underpin emotion and social interactions. Understanding how these mechanisms influence social behavior may provide new treatment strategies for autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders, according to research presented today at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
Autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in 65 children in the United States, and one of the most recognizable symptoms is reduced social interaction, something also observed in some anxiety disorders. Additionally, autism and schizophrenia both disrupt the ability to detect and respond to the emotions of others — such as offering comfort to a distressed peer.
Today’s new findings show that:
- The levels of a receptor implicated in social bonding predicts how likely prairie voles are to console each other in times of stress, a discovery that may help explain behaviors observed in autism and schizophrenia (James Burkett, abstract 387.03, see attached summary).
- A hormone involved in social bonding and a neurotransmitter involved in reward work together to promote social interaction in mice, suggesting that manipulating this system may be important for treating social impairments seen in autism (Lin Hung, abstract 387.02, see attached summary).
- The comfort people feel when surrounded by others may be due to activation of part of the prefrontal cortex, providing a potential target for treatments aimed at reducing fear and anxiety (Zoe Donaldson, abstract 634.22, see attached summary).
- Infants’ brains respond differently to different emotions, with fearful faces inducing the most widespread network activity from as young as 5 months old (Catherine Stamoulis, abstract 678.09, see attached summary).
- A tendency to dread social situations may be explained by structural differences in brain regions that regulate emotion, attention, and perception, a finding that could help in developing therapies for social anxiety (Bonni Crawford, abstract 268.06, see attached summary).
The research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as other public, private, and philanthropic organizations worldwide. Find out more about the neurobiology of social behavior at BrainFacts.org.