Social Experience Organizes Parallel Networks in Sensory and Limbic Forebrain

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Successful social behavior can directly influence an individual's reproductive success. Therefore, many organisms readily modify social behavior based on past experience. The neural changes induced by social experience, however, remain to be fully elucidated. We hypothesize that social modulation of neural systems not only occurs at the level of individual nuclei, but also of functional networks, and their relationships with behavior. We used the green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis), which displays stereotyped, visually triggered social behaviors particularly suitable for comparisons of multiple functional networks in a social context, to test whether repeated aggressive interactions modify behavior and metabolic activity in limbic-hypothalamic and sensory forebrain regions, assessed by quantitative cytochrome oxidase (a slowly accumulating endogenous metabolic marker) histochemistry. We found that aggressive interactions potentiate aggressive behavior, induce changes in activities of individual nuclei, and organize context-specific functional neural networks. Surprisingly, this experiential effect is not only present in a limbic-hypothalamic network, but also extends to a sensory forebrain network directly relevant to the behavioral expression. Our results suggest that social experience modulates organisms' social behavior via modifying sensory and limbic neural systems in parallel both at the levels of individual regions and networks, potentially biasing perceptual as well as limbic processing.

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