Deficits in social interaction (SI) are a core symptom of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); however, treatments for social deficits are notably lacking. Elucidating brain circuits and neuromodulatory signaling systems that regulate sociability could facilitate a deeper understanding of ASD pathophysiology and reveal novel treatments for ASDs. Here we found that in vivo optogenetic activation of the basolateral amygdala-nucleus accumbens (BLA-NAc) glutamatergic circuit reduced SI and increased social avoidance in mice. Furthermore, we found that 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) endocannabinoid signaling reduced BLA-NAc glutamatergic activity and that pharmacological 2-AG augmentation via administration of JZL184, a monoacylglycerol lipase inhibitor, blocked SI deficits associated with in vivo BLA-NAc stimulation. Additionally, optogenetic inhibition of the BLA-NAc circuit markedly increased SI in the Shank3B-/- mouse, an ASD model with substantial SI impairment, without affecting SI in WT mice. Finally, we demonstrated that JZL184 delivered systemically or directly to the NAc also normalized SI deficits in Shank3B-/- mice, while ex vivo JZL184 application corrected aberrant NAc excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission and reduced BLA-NAc-elicited feed-forward inhibition of NAc neurons in Shank3B-/- mice. These data reveal circuit-level and neuromodulatory mechanisms regulating social function relevant to ASDs and suggest 2-AG augmentation could reduce social deficits via modulation of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the NAc.
Keywords: Neuroscience; Psychiatric diseases.