for Neurobiology of Social Interactions
Dr. Shlomo Wagner,
Dr. Shlomo Wagner
Head of Laboratory for Neurobiology of Social
survival and success of all mammals depend on their ability to
communicate and interact with other individuals of the same species.
These interactions range from courting and mating, through parent-offspring
relations, to competitive and aggressive interactions. Although
social interactions are mediated through various senses in distinct
mammals, they finally activate similar conserved brain areas. Within
these areas, the limbic system, which includes relatively primitive
brain structures and was found to be involved in the processing of
emotions, has a central role. Recently there has been a significant
progress in identifying mammalian brain neuronal circuits involved
in the formation and preservation of social information, such as
memories mediating keen and mate recognition.
the most important animal models for brain research is the mouse. In
rodents, including mice, social interactions are mediated mainly by
molecules termed "pheromones".
Pheromones are detected by mammals using two sensory systems: 1 –
the main olfactory system, also mediating the general sense of
smell. 2 – The vomeronasal system, a separate chemosensory system,
assumed to be dedicated for the detection of pheromones. Both
systems send information regarding the detection of pheromones to a
limbic structure called the amygdala, where this information is
processed and elicit motor, endocrine and emotional responses.
laboratory investigates learning and memory processes involved in
social interactions. The research aim is to understand the
information processing in the neuronal networks which are involved
in social interactions and to reveal the way by which this
information is stored as memories, at the molecular, cellular and
network levels. We are using a combination of behavioral,
biochemical, molecular, electrophysiological and imaging methods in
order to uncover cellular circuitry and to monitor changes in
neuronal activity in these networks, following social interactions.
We also use genetic engineering to create transgenic mice strains
that will facilitate the research. Using these tools we have already
created few transgenic mouse lines in which various pheromone
receptors are labeled each with a distinct fluorescent protein.
Another subject which is explored in the laboratory is autism, one
of the most devastating conditions in a broad range of developmental
abnormalities of the central nervous system. Its prevalence has
sharply increased over the past 10 years, with a current occurrence
of about 0.7% of the population. Autism impairs mental function, and
is associated with severe communication and perception disabilities.
Despite the fact that this is a complicated disorder, with a poorly
defined etiology, a multitude of evidence suggests that autism is a
genetically-linked disorder. However, no single gene was identified
as the direct cause of the disorder and many studies support the
idea that this is in fact a multigenic phenotype.
the genes that are highly associated with the disorder is the gene
encoding the receptor for the neuropeptide oxytocin. Across species,
oxytocin plays a pivotal role in modulating social cognition and
behavior. Specifically, recognition of a familiar individual was
found in mice to depend upon oxytocin release in the medial
amygdala. Furthermore, autistic children display significantly lower
blood oxytocin levels and oxytocin sniffing was found to relieve
some of autism-related symptoms. Together these and other evidence
support a role for oxytocin in autism. However, despite the plethora
of data regarding oxytocin little is known about the mechanisms and
pathways by which oxytocin exerts its effect in the central nervous
lab we investigate the mechanisms by which oxytocin is changing
neuronal activity in brain areas which are related to social
behavior. We work in parallel on the mouse and human oxytocin
systems in order to facilitate translation of basic scientific
findings to treatment that may help people suffering from autism.