Hormonal gain control of a medial preoptic area social reward circuit.
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.
McHenry, JA; Otis, JM; Rossi, MA; Robinson, JE; Kosyk, O; Miller, NW; McElligott, ZA; Budygin, EA; Rubinow, DR; Stuber, GD
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