Ilana Witten, during the course of her investigations to understand the social characteristics of mice, discovered spatial and social signals that are inextricably linked in the mouse brain.
Excitedly, she explains, “The data was already available and screaming at everyone for some time before we actually realized what is really going on.”
Ilana Witten is an assistant professor at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute heading the psychology department. Witten adds, “I think it is equally exciting to discover how unique factors and discoveries help us in understanding the complex theories of social behaviors.”
Further, she highlights the data that accurately suggests newer avenues of treatments to combat disorders that are related to dementia, schizophrenia, and autism.
Malavika Murugan, a PNI Post-Doctorate, says, “These researchers can gradually help us understand the ASD disorders better.”
Earlier researchers on social behaviors have focused their studies on understanding underlying factors such as sex, mothering or other complex behaviors such as being overly aggressive. However, this study has been able to provide a different perspective on behaviors concerning the social signals and other abnormalities related to autism.
Witten says, “It is exciting to know the greater roles mechanisms play in understanding social behaviors and learning processes.” Witten further explains, “Learning is a process which helps everyone involved to change for the better and this could help us be more hopeful in understanding the other underlying interventions.”
The team led by Witten conducted experiments by giving two mouse pups an opportunity to socialize in an enclosed cage. The cage was so designed as to limit the mobility factor of one of the mice (or social target).
The other test mouse was free to choose whether or not to indulge the target mouse in social behaviors such as grooming or sniffing.
The test mouse was again reintroduced into the test cage to understand and observe the changes in its behavior. Further, the researchers used a technique involving optogenetics, a biological technique that revolves around the use of light to successfully control the neuronal structures of the brain.
After using the optogenetics technique, it was observed that the test mouse roamed freely, without any hindrance, throughout the space. Further, when the test mouse was seen not to inhibit the circuit, it preferred spending more time remembering its social environment with the target mouse.
Researchers say, “In simple terms, it means the test mouse has successfully managed to learn where exactly the fun hangout spot is, and made a decision to return.”
The team further explains that humans engage in these sorts of social activities during the course of social-spatial association throughout their lives. Witten says, “It could be anything from visiting the new club next door or returning to your favorite mall or any other place where we can remember having our best moments or spending quality time.”
“The ‘Cool folks,’ are often successful in turning an otherwise dull spot into something exciting that brims with social signals, which we observed during the course of experimentation,” explains Witten.
The team mentions the results highlight the power of social targets in changing the value of the location.
Witten concludes by saying, “Similar to these experimental animals, humans too spend a majority of their time in day-to-day social interactions that can provide a rewarding experience, if properly nurtured.”