Social impairment is a common symptom among neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, and negative social experience plays a role in their development and maintenance. Thus, from a human health standpoint, the elucidation of neural circuitry underlying social perception and social cognition represents a critical focal point for basic neuroscientific research. Still, despite its obvious importance, a thorough understanding of how the brain processes social information and uses it to guide social behavior remains elusive. In humans and in rodents, the medial prefrontal cortex has been strongly implicated in social cognition, and dysfunction in prefrontal circuitry is thought to underlie some of the social impairments observed in psychiatric conditions. Recent advances in systems neuroscience have uncovered specific circuit elements serving social functions, including aggression, social status, and dominance behaviors. However, it is not clear how social behavioral choices are modulated by sensory and contextual cues, and how social information is represented in high-order brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex. The research program outlined in this proposal seeks to uncover how medial prefrontal neurons encode social information, and how this information is used to shape context- dependent social decisions such as dominance behavior. Using in vivo calcium imaging in freely behaving mice, the proposed experiments will reveal how prefrontal ensembles encode social sensory cues (Aim 1), and how this information is used to guide social dominance decisions (Aim 2). Using optical recordings and optogenetic perturbations, Aim 3 will focus on the role of prefrontal projections to the dorsal Raph nucleus ? a subcortical structure implicated in the regulation of socioemotional and motivational states ? in orchestrating social dominance behavior. The insights garnered from these experiments will expand our understanding of how the brain uses social cues to shape behavior, shedding new light onto the neural mechanisms underlying social functioning and laying the groundwork for new approaches to treat psychiatric illness.
Social perception and cognition lie at the heart of the human experience, and play a vital role in the develop- ment and maintenance of neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia ? yet relatively little is known about the neural circuits underlying social functions. Using in vivo calcium imaging in mice, the proposed research will elucidate how social cues and decisions are encoded in the prefrontal cortex, a region implicated in the social deficits observed in psychiatric conditions. By dissecting how prefrontal neurons en- code information and manipulating cortical projections using optogenetics, this research will also increase un- derstanding of how social circuits shape behavior, opening avenues for more precise therapeutic strategies.