Four gene 'micronet' found to regulate social behavior in female mice

What do the brain, ovaries and nose have in common? According to new research from The Rockefeller University, these three organs help orchestrate the complex behavior called social recognition in female mice through the interaction of four genes.

The findings, reported in the April 29 issue of PNAS Early Edition, help explain social interactions among female animals, and may shed light on social phobias and disorders in humans.

The researchers, led by Rockefeller professor Donald Pfaff, Ph.D., show that strains of female mice that lack the genes for oxytocin and the estrogen receptors alpha and beta fail to recognize normal female mice after repeated instances when the normal animal was placed in the same space. The gene "knockout" mice also failed to investigate a new "intruder mouse" under circumstances where a genetically normal mouse would do so.

As a result the Rockefeller team was able to infer for the first time the roles of oxytocin and estrogen receptor genes in social recognition in female mice.

"We have linked four genes known to be involved in social interaction into one model to explain the behavior known as social recognition," says first author Elena Choleris, Ph.D. "Social recognition is a crucial behavior in animals including humans that live in groups, because in order to know who your friends, bosses and enemies are, you need to not only recognize individuals but remember who they are."

"The effect of knocking out three separate genes and producing similar changes in behavior "formed a parallelism that fits into a very large literature having to do with molecular biology and social behavior, which we've condensed into a single hypothesis," says Pfaff, who heads the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller.

"The notion that cognition having to do with social life is different from other forms of cognition as managed by the brain is becoming widely accepted among scientists who study

Contact: Joseph Bonner
Rockefeller University

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