Dopaminergic Neurotransmission in the Nucleus Accumbens Modulates Social Play Behavior in Rats

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Aug;41(9):2215-23. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.22. Epub 2016 Feb 10.


Social play behavior is a highly rewarding form of social interaction displayed by young mammals. Social play is important for neurobehavioral development and it has been found to be impaired in several developmental psychiatric disorders. In line with the rewarding properties of social play, we have previously identified the nucleus accumbens (NAc) as an important site of action for endocannabinoid and opioid modulation of this behavior. NAc dopamine has a well-known role in certain components of reward processes, such as incentive motivation. However, its contribution to the positive emotional aspects of social interactions is less clear. Therefore, we investigated the role of dopaminergic neurotransmission in the NAc in social play behavior in rats. We found that intra-NAc infusion of the dopamine releaser/reuptake inhibitor amphetamine increased social play behavior that was dependent on activation of both D1 and D2 dopamine receptors. This increase in social play behavior was mimicked by intra-NAc infusion of the dopamine receptor agonist apomorphine, but not of the dopamine reuptake inhibitor GBR-12909. Blockade of either D1 or D2 NAc dopamine receptors reduced social play in animals highly motivated to play as a result of longer social isolation before testing. Last, blockade of NAc dopamine receptors prevented the play-enhancing effects of endocannabinoid and opioid receptor stimulation. These findings demonstrate an important modulatory role of NAc dopaminergic neurotransmission in social play. Thus, functional activity in the mesolimbic dopamine pathway plays an important role in adaptive social development, whereas abnormal NAc dopamine function may underlie the social impairments observed in developmental psychiatric disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or early-onset schizophrenia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / administration & dosage
  • Animals
  • Apomorphine / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopamine D2 Receptor Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Motivation / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Piperazines / administration & dosage
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / agonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / agonists
  • Social Behavior*
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Dopamine D2 Receptor Antagonists
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Piperazines
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • vanoxerine
  • Amphetamine
  • Apomorphine
  • Dopamine