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Neuroscience. 2018 Feb 1;370:148-162. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.07.013. Epub 2017 Jul 17.

Neural Circuits for Social Cognition: Implications for Autism.

Author information

1
Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Leioa 48940, Spain.
2
Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Leioa 48940, Spain; Biomedical Research Networking Center in Mental Health (CIBERSAM), Spain.
3
Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Leioa 48940, Spain; Biomedical Research Networking Center in Mental Health (CIBERSAM), Spain. Electronic address: olga.penagarikano@ehu.eus.

Abstract

Social neuroscience, the study of the neurobiological basis of social behavior, has become a major area of current research in behavioral neuroscience and psychiatry, since many psychiatric disorders are characterized by social deficits. Social behavior refers to the behavioral response with regard to socially relevant information, and requires the perception and integration of social cues through a complex cognition process (i.e. social cognition) that involves attention, memory, motivation and emotion. Neurobiological and molecular mechanisms underlying social behavior are highly conserved across species, and inter- and intra-specific variability observed in social behavior can be explained to large extent by differential activity of this conserved neural network. Human functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have greatly informed about the brain structures and their connectivity networks that are important for social cognition. Animal research has been crucial for identifying specific circuits and molecular mechanisms that modulate this structural network. From a molecular neurobiology perspective, activity in these brain structures is coordinated by neuronal circuits modulated by several neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Thus, quantitative variation in the levels, release and/or receptor density of these molecules could affect the observed behavioral response. The present review presents an overall framework of the components of the social brain circuitry and its modulation. By integrating multiple research approaches, from human fMRI studies to animal models we can start shedding light into how dysfunction in these circuits could lead to disorders of social-functioning such as Autism.

KEYWORDS:

autism; cognition; dopamine; oxytocin; serotonin; social

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