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Nat Neurosci. 2017 Mar;20(3):449-458. doi: 10.1038/nn.4487. Epub 2017 Jan 30.

Hormonal gain control of a medial preoptic area social reward circuit.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
2
Neuroscience Curriculum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
3
Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
4
Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA.
5
Institute of Translational Biomedicine St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia.
6
Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
7
Neuroscience Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

Abstract

Neural networks that control reproduction must integrate social and hormonal signals, tune motivation, and coordinate social interactions. However, the neural circuit mechanisms for these processes remain unresolved. The medial preoptic area (mPOA), an essential node for social behaviors, comprises molecularly diverse neurons with widespread projections. Here we identify a steroid-responsive subset of neurotensin (Nts)-expressing mPOA neurons that interface with the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to form a socially engaged reward circuit. Using in vivo two-photon imaging in female mice, we show that mPOANts neurons preferentially encode attractive male cues compared to nonsocial appetitive stimuli. Ovarian hormone signals regulate both the physiological and cue-encoding properties of these cells. Furthermore, optogenetic stimulation of mPOANts-VTA circuitry promotes rewarding phenotypes, social approach and striatal dopamine release. Collectively, these data demonstrate that steroid-sensitive mPOA neurons encode ethologically relevant stimuli and co-opt midbrain reward circuits to promote prosocial behaviors critical for species survival.

PMID:
28135243
DOI:
10.1038/nn.4487
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