Involvement of the dopaminergic system in social interactions
Social interactions require perception and integration of social information and involves social memory but also social motivation. Conspecific’ interactions stimulate dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra as essential parts of the rewarding circuitry of the brain, thus promoting social reinforcement learning. Increased anxiety-like behaviors have been linked to changes in dopaminergic signaling caused by dopamine receptors and transporter malfunction. More significantly, persistently high levels of stress or trauma exposure can lead to pathological behaviors including Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). According to published research, VTA-dopamine neurons are capable of controlling both appetitive and aversive behaviors. In this context, I am specifically interested in describing how dopaminergic neurons can control the molecular and neurological pathways underlying social motivation, and social fear/avoidance in mice. Here, I will use neuropharmacological manipulations in target brain regions used in animal models of social fear conditioning, social preference, and general anxiety. This will be combined with molecular techniques such as qPCR, immunohistochemistry, western blotting, RNA scope, among others.