• From left: HeeJae Jang, Malavika Murugan, Ilana Witten and their colleagues have identified a neural substrate for social learning in mice, with possible relevance to disorders like autism.
    Photo credit: Danielle Alio, Office of Communications
  • From the Witten Lab: Optogenetics shines light on social interactions

    Assistant Professor Ilana Witten and her research team performed optogenetic experiments with mice to isolate precisely which circuits of the brain are involved in social-spatial learning. 

    "I think it’s pretty exciting, because it’s a different way to think about how the prefrontal cortex is contributing to social behavior.” In addition, she said, the data suggest new avenues of treatment for disorders that have social behavior deficits, from autism to schizophrenia or dementia.

    Malavika Murugan, a PNI postdoctoral research fellow, was the lead author on their paper "Combined Social and Spatial Coding in a Descending Projection from the Prefrontal Cortex" in the journal Cell. The summary concludes that the unexpected combination of social and spatial information within the PL-NAc may contribute to social behavior by supporting social-spatial learning.

    Read more:
    Hope for autism: Optogenetics shines light on social interactions