Recent advances in circuit manipulation technologies have enabled the association of distinct neural circuits with complex social behaviors. The brain areas identified through historical anatomical characterizations as mediators of sexual and parental behaviors can now be functionally linked to adult social behaviors within a unified circuit. In vivo electrophysiology, optogenetics and chemogenetics have been used to follow the processing of social sensory stimuli from perception by the olfactory system to valence detection by the amygdala and mesolimbic dopamine system to integration by the cerebral and cerebellar cortices under modulation of hypothalamic neuropeptides. Further, these techniques have been able to identify the distinct functional changes induced by social as opposed to non-social stimuli. Together this evidence suggests that there is a distinct, functionally coupled circuit that is selectively activated by social stimuli. A unified social circuit provides a new framework against which synaptopathic autism related mutations can be considered and novel pharmacotherapeutic strategies can be developed.
Keywords: Autism; Chemogenetics; Circuit; Optogenetics; Shank3; Social behavior; Tuberous sclerosis.
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