[CPCN Seminar] Understanding the Neural Basis of Social Attachment

May 10, 2023 3:00pm


Dr. Devanand Manoli
UC San Francisco


BioE 1001


Social attachments play a central role in most, if not all, levels of human interaction, from parent-child attachment, friendship and social affiliation, to enduring partnerships with mates. It has been difficult to study social attachment because traditional genetic lab model animals do not exhibit adult social attachment behaviors. Thus, the analysis of social
attachment has been resistant to genetic and neurobiological approaches.

Prairie voles, in contrast, display social attachment as adults such that mating partners form an enduring pair bond and display complex attachment behaviors, such as social monogamy and bi-parental care. Pioneering work in the prairie vole has identified vasopressin (Avp) and oxytocin (Oxt), as critical mediators of pair bonding in voles and social cognition and behaviors in humans. Indeed, differences in the expression of the receptors for these peptide hormones, V1aR and OxtR, respectively, in specific brain regions correlates with the potential for social monogamy in closely related species. Nevertheless, how these and other genes function within these circuits to control specific aspects of
 complex social behaviors remains unknown. We are, for the first time, well-poised to understand how specific genes and pathways function in the circuits underlying social attachment and contribute to distinct aspects of attachment and cognitive processes.

Here we present our analysis of the behavioral, molecular, and physiologic consequences of loss of OxtR function on pair bonding and attachment behaviors. We find differences in the role of OxtR in the formation of pair bonds and promiscuity in males vs. females, and sex-specific effects of OxtR function on 1) reciprocal social behaviors mediating  attachment formation, 2) the development of neurons that mediate pair bonding, and 3) patterns of neural activity in these populations during social and attachment behaviors.


Julie Simpson

Research Area

Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience