The title of my talk: Social reward and prosocial behaviors in mice.

Abstract: Prosocial behaviors bring subjective benefit to others. If a prosocial action is rewarding, then its outcome acts as a reinforcer, and increases the probability of the action being repeated. We are interested in the neuronal mechanisms that underlie the rewarding effects of social contact, hypothesizing that they should be the driver of prosocial behavior. We propose that the social reward is strongly influenced by opioid signaling in the basal ganglia of the brain and the nucleus accumbens septi in particular. In line with previous reports, we find that social contact is rewarding, and young or female C57BL/6 mice show preference for the context of social interaction in a modified conditioned place preference task. Interestingly, the expression of the preference is attenuated when animals are treated with an unspecific opioid antagonist (nalmefene). To further test the involvement of the opioid system, we developed two novel genetically modified mouse strains, one with inactivation of mu and delta opioid receptors on dopamine receptor D1 expressing neurons (D1-M/D-KD) and second with ablation of the Penk gene in D2 dopamine receptor D1 expressing neurons (PenkD2Cre). Thus far results indicate a potential difference in social approach in D1-M/D-KD, but normal social reward conditioning. Finally, to specifically test prosocial behaviors we have been developing a maze-based and instrumental tasks, where a mouse chooses between an action that benefits only itself, or an alternative that also yields a reward to a partner. In this task we observed no prosocial behavior in male animals, and moderately frequent prosocial choices among females. Taken together our results confirm involvement of opioid signaling in the rewarding effects of social contact, however, further experiments are required to establish the specific mechanism involved.

Bio: I am the head of the Department of Molecular Neuropharmacology at the Maj Institute of Pharmacology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. My research projects focus on the use of genetically modified mice with selective ablations of neurotransmitter or neuropeptide receptors in selected types of neurons to test behaviors that model reinforcement, assess executive functions or resemble symptoms of affective disorders. I am also involved in projects that investigate the effects of psychotropic drugs on gene expression, where through transcriptome analysis we hope to find novel insights into the mechanisms of action and possible correlates between gene expression and clinical profiles. I am the author or co-author of 38 original papers and 2 reviews. In 2010 a paper where I shared equal main contribution was awarded the Jerzy Konorski Prize and nominated the Polish FENS Highlight.