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A Hypothalamic Circuit Underlying the Dynamic Control of Social Homeostasis

Ding Liu, Mostafizur Rahman, Autumn Johnson, Iku Tsutsui-Kimura, Nicolai Pena, Mustafa Talay, Brandon L. Logeman, Samantha Finkbeiner, Seungwon Choi, Athena Capo-Battaglia, Ishmail Abdus-Saboor, David D. Ginty, Naoshige Uchida, Mitsuko Watabe-Uchida, Catherine Dulac
bioRxiv (2023)


Social grouping increases survival in many species, including humans1,2. By contrast, social isolation generates an aversive state (loneliness) that motivates social seeking and heightens social interaction upon reunion3-5. The observed rebound in social interaction triggered by isolation suggests a homeostatic process underlying the control of social drive, similar to that observed for physiological needs such as hunger, thirst or sleep3,6. In this study, we assessed social responses in multiple mouse strains and identified the FVB/NJ line as exquisitely sensitive to social isolation. Using FVB/NJ mice, we uncovered two previously uncharacterized neuronal populations in the hypothalamic preoptic nucleus that are activated during social isolation and social rebound and that orchestrate the behavior display of social need and social satiety, respectively. We identified direct connectivity between these two populations of opposite function and with brain areas associated with social behavior, emotional state, reward, and physiological needs, and showed that animals require touch to assess the presence of others and fulfill their social need, thus revealing a brain-wide neural system underlying social homeostasis. These findings offer mechanistic insight into the nature and function of circuits controlling instinctive social need and for the understanding of healthy and diseased brain states associated with social context.