Making choice between competing rewards in uncertain vs. safe social environment: role of neuronal nicotinic receptors of acetylcholine

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Aug 27;7:468. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00468. eCollection 2013.


In social environments, choosing between multiple rewards is modulated by the uncertainty of the situation. Here, we compared how mice interact with a conspecific and how they use acoustic communication during this interaction in a three chambers task (no social threat was possible) and a Social Interaction Task, SIT (uncertain situation as two mice interact freely). We further manipulated the motivational state of the mice to see how they rank natural rewards such as social contact, food, and novelty seeking. We previously showed that beta2-subunit containing nicotinic receptors-β2(*)nAChRs- are required for establishing reward ranking between social interaction, novelty exploration, and food consumption in social situations with high uncertainty. Knockout mice for β2(*)nAChRs-β2(-/-)mice- exhibit profound impairment in making social flexible choices, as compared to control -WT- mice. Our current data shows that being confronted with a conspecific in a socially safe environment as compared to a more uncertain environment, drastically reduced communication between the two mice, and changed their way to deal with a social conspecific. Furthermore, we demonstrated for the first time, that β2(-/-) mice had the same motivational ranking than WT mice when placed in a socially safe environment. Therefore, β2(*)nAChRs are not necessary for integrating social information or social rewards per se, but are important for making choices, only in a socially uncertain environment. This seems particularly important in the context of Social Neuroscience, as numerous animal models are used to provide novel insights and to test promising novel treatments of human pathologies affecting social and communication processes, among which Autistic spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

Keywords: beta2 nAChRs; decision-making; mice; social interaction; ultrasonic vocalization; uncertainty.