Combined Social and Spatial Coding in a Descending Projection from the Prefrontal Cortex

Cell. 2017 Dec 14;171(7):1663-1677.e16. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.11.002. Epub 2017 Dec 7.


Social behaviors are crucial to all mammals. Although the prelimbic cortex (PL, part of medial prefrontal cortex) has been implicated in social behavior, it is not clear which neurons are relevant or how they contribute. We found that PL contains anatomically and molecularly distinct subpopulations that target three downstream regions that have been implicated in social behavior: the nucleus accumbens (NAc), amygdala, and ventral tegmental area. Activation of NAc-projecting PL neurons (PL-NAc), but not the other subpopulations, decreased the preference for a social target. To determine what information PL-NAc neurons convey, we selectively recorded from them and found that individual neurons were active during social investigation, but only in specific spatial locations. Spatially specific manipulation of these neurons bidirectionally regulated the formation of a social-spatial association. Thus, the unexpected combination of social and spatial information within the PL-NAc may contribute to social behavior by supporting social-spatial learning.

Keywords: calcium imaging; medial prefrontal cortex; nucleus accumbens; optogenetics; social behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Learning
  • Limbic System*
  • Mice
  • Neural Pathways
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Spatial Behavior*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology