Evolutionarily Conserved Mechanisms of Sociality
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There is an extraordinary amount of variation in social behavior within and across species. However, when phenotypic convergence in behavior (e.g., sociality) is observed, it begs the question as to whether the same neural mechanisms evolved across species to promote sociality, or whether they have reached a similar behavioral endpoint via different modifications to the brain. In this talk, I will focus on a neural system that is well known for modulating numerous types of social behavior – the nonapeptide system. The nonapeptides, vasopressin and oxytocin, are produced in distinct neuronal populations throughout the brain, with each population having distinct, yet some overlapping, behavioral functions. Using correlational and causal studies in birds and rodents, I will demonstrate evolutionarily conserved prosocial and anti-aggressive functions of a nonapeptide subcircuit originating in the extended medial amygdala. This research highlights the importance of utilizing a comparative approach, which can allow us to identify fundamental core principles of brain organization that allow an animal to be social.