Neural mechanisms underlying social emotion; love and hate.
For animals who form a society, it is crucial to remember and recognize different conspecific individuals (i.e. having “social memory”), and exhibit appropriate social behavior towards each other. Using optogenetic techniques, we demonstrated that vCA1 pyramidal neurons in the hippocampus store social memory (social memory engram). Even if the memory seemed lost after long separation periods, optogenetic activation of the engram can fully restore that social memory. Additionally, artificial association between social engram encoding the memory of a specific individual with fear or reward events can elicit avoidance from or preference to that individual, respectively. Using this novel technology for manipulating a specific social memory, our lab aims to reveal neural mechanisms underlying expression of emotion such as “love” and “hate”.
Social memory and autism spectrum disorder.
One tiny dissonance in social memory can easily disrupt the appropriate social behavior, even in humans. Social impairments caused by genetic mutation, especially those related to familiarization with other individuals, are commonly exhibited by patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autistic patients have difficulty either with social memory itself, or showing typical behavior of social familiarity driven by social memory. We attempt to reveal the mysterious underpinnings of social memory in autism, while aiming at the ultimate goal of our lab — the improvement of autism treatment.