Social play behavior in adolescent rats is mediated by functional activity in medial prefrontal cortex and striatum

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Sep;38(10):1899-909. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.83. Epub 2013 Apr 8.


Social play behavior is a characteristic, vigorous form of social interaction in young mammals. It is highly rewarding and thought to be of major importance for social and cognitive development. The neural substrates of social play are incompletely understood, but there is evidence to support a role for the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and striatum in this behavior. Using pharmacological inactivation methods, ie, infusions of GABA receptor agonists (baclofen and muscimol; B&M) or the AMPA/kainate receptor antagonist 6,7-dinitroquinoxaline-2,3(1H,4H)-dione (DNQX), we investigated the involvement of several subregions of the medial PFC and striatum in social play. Inactivation of the prelimbic cortex, infralimbic cortex, and medial/ventral orbitofrontal cortex using B&M markedly reduced frequency and duration of social play behavior. Local administration of DNQX into the dorsomedial striatum increased the frequency and duration of social play, whereas infusion of B&M tended to have the same effect. Inactivation of the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) core using B&M increased duration but not frequency of social play, whereas B&M infusion into the NAcc shell did not influence social play behavior. Thus, functional integrity of the medial PFC is important for the expression of social play behavior. Glutamatergic inputs into the dorsomedial striatum exert an inhibitory influence on social play, and functional activity in the NAcc core acts to limit the length of playful interactions. These results highlight the importance of prefrontal and striatal circuits implicated in cognitive control, decision making, behavioral inhibition, and reward-associated processes in social play behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Baclofen / administration & dosage
  • Baclofen / pharmacology
  • Corpus Striatum / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • GABA-B Receptor Agonists / administration & dosage
  • GABA-B Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Microinjections
  • Muscimol / administration & dosage
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Quinoxalines / administration & dosage
  • Quinoxalines / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Social Behavior*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • GABA-B Receptor Agonists
  • Quinoxalines
  • Muscimol
  • FG 9041
  • Baclofen