Andy’s Quick Hits (190): Controlling social mingling by laser

Andy Hab
2 min readMar 28, 2022

There has been plenty of research into brain areas that contribute to our social brain but these researchers around Stephen Mague at Duke University went a step, or two, further and managed to identify a network that controls social mingling in mice. What’s more they could then manipulate the network to make the mice more, or less, gregarious.

First off, the researchers identified eight regions that are known to be involved in social aspects of behaviour. They then made recordings from these areas in social scenarios. The multiple readings from these areas (which are immense amounts of data in themselves) were then fed into an AI tool that then tried to identify patterns in this complex set of data.

The AI tool, after going through its learning, could then accurately predict which mice would be more social or not from their activation patterns in this network. This shows that the social brain is a network rather than a region.

However, the more fascinating part of this study is that the researchers were than able to manipulate how social these mice were by activating different areas of the network through a technique called optogenetics, zapping and activating parts of this network with laser light and thereby making the mice more, or less, gregarious.

This highlights that the brain operates in networks rather than specific modules or regions and this also opens the path to more refined work in the future focusing on networks and using AI to identify neural patterns.

Reference:
Stephen D. Mague, Austin Talbot, Cameron Blount, Kathryn K. Walder-Christensen, Lara J. Duffney, Elise Adamson, Alexandra L. Bey, Nkemdilim Ndubuizu, Gwenaëlle E. Thomas, Dalton N. Hughes, Yael Grossman, Rainbo Hultman, Saurabh Sinha, Alexandra M. Fink, Neil M. Gallagher, Rachel L. Fisher, Yong-Hui Jiang, David E. Carlson, Kafui Dzirasa.
Brain-wide electrical dynamics encode individual appetitive social behavior.
Neuron, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2022.02.016

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Andy is author of leading brains Review a monthly e-magazine on all things the brain, behaviour, and business.

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Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!