Saturday, April 02, 2016

Musing: Dorsal Raphe Dopamine Neurons Represent the Experience of Social Isolation

Dean Reinke
Deans' Stroke Musing
Monday, February 29, 2016

Ask your doctor if damage to this area is causing your social isolation. S/he should know at least that much. What is their stroke protocol to fix that problem? Dorsal Raphe Dopamine Neurons Represent the Experience of Social Isolation.

Gillian A. Matthews3, Edward H. Nieh3, Caitlin M. Vander Weele3, Sarah A. Halbert, Roma V. Pradhan, Ariella S. Yosafat, Gordon F. Glober, Ehsan M. Izadmehr, Rain E. Thomas, Gabrielle D. Lacy, Craig P. Wildes, Mark A. Ungless4correspondenceemail, Kay M. Tye

Open Access DOI:
Open access funded by Medical Research Council


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  • Dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) dopamine neurons are sensitive to acute social isolation
  • DRN dopamine neurons release dopamine and glutamate in downstream structures
  • Optical activation induces, whereas inhibition suppresses, a “loneliness-like” state
  • Social rank predicts the behavioral effect induced by optical manipulations


The motivation to seek social contact may arise from either positive or negative emotional states, as social interaction can be rewarding and social isolation can be aversive. While ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons may mediate social reward, a cellular substrate for the negative affective state of loneliness has remained elusive. Here, we identify a functional role for DA neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), in which we observe synaptic changes following acute social isolation. DRN DA neurons show increased activity upon social contact following isolation, revealed by in vivo calcium imaging. Optogenetic activation of DRN DA neurons increases social preference but causes place avoidance. Furthermore, these neurons are necessary for promoting rebound sociability following an acute period of isolation. Finally, the degree to which these neurons modulate behavior is predicted by social rank, together supporting a role for DRN dopamine neurons in mediating a loneliness-like state.

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