“Social Information Processing and Learning in Rodents”
Robert Liu, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Biology
There is an increasing appreciation that mental health disorders often include social-specific deficits, motivating research into the neurophysiological mechanisms that underlie natural, social behaviors in mammals. Information about other individuals is constantly being acquired, assessed and learned from cues emitted during social interactions. However, our understanding about processing and plasticity mechanisms for sensory cues has generally come from studies of nonsocial contexts, leaving a gap in our knowledge about their relevance in social contexts. My lab has been addressing this gap by applying a computational neuroethological paradigm to investigate social-sensory information processing and plasticity in robust, natural rodent social behaviors. In this talk, I will first review recent work about sensory cortical plasticity when maternal mice learn the natural, behavioral meaning of a category of ultrasonic vocalizations emitted by pups – findings that were unexpected based on prior auditory cortical plasticity studies from nonsocial contexts. I will then present new research investigating neural activity underlying social interactions in the monogamous prairie vole, a premier animal model for elucidating the neural bases for prosocial bonding. Exploiting both electrophysiological and optogenetic methods, our results provide the first dynamic view of corticostriatal processes involved in bond formation, revealing how social interactions recruit reward systems to drive changes in affiliative behavior.