A dynamic circuit mechanism for social bond formation in female prairie voles
Amadei, Elizabeth A.
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Adult pair bonding involves dramatic changes in the perception and valuation of another individual. One key change is that partners come to reliably activate the brain’s reward system, though the precise neural mechanisms by which partners become rewarding during sociosexual interactions leading to a bond remain unclear. Using a prairie vole model of social bonding, I show how a functional circuit from medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) to nucleus accumbens (NAcc) is dynamically modulated to enhance females’ affiliative behavior towards a partner. Individual variation in the strength of this functional connectivity, particularly after the first mating encounter, predicts how quickly animals begin affiliative huddling with their partner. Rhythmically activating this circuit in a social context without mating biases later preference towards a partner, indicating that this circuit’s activity is not just correlated with how quickly animals become affiliative but causally accelerates it. These results provide the first dynamic view of corticostriatal processes involved in bond formation, revealing how social interactions recruit reward systems to drive changes in affiliative behavior.