Social transmission of food safety depends on synaptic plasticity in the prefrontal cortex

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Science  07 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6444, pp. 991-995
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw5842

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This is safe, you can eat it

Social transmission of food preference is a model for studying nonspatial memory. In mice, a signal that food is safe to eat is transmitted by its smell along with molecules in the breath of a conspecific. How the odor itself is encoded and assigned valence is poorly understood. Loureiro et al. found a monosynaptic pathway between two brain areas, the piriform cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, that plays a central role in this process. This connection strengthens during social interaction, thereby allowing a mouse to provide a food safety message to its companion.

Science, this issue p. 991


When an animal is facing unfamiliar food, its odor, together with semiochemicals emanating from a conspecific, can constitute a safety message and authorize intake. The piriform cortex (PiC) codes olfactory information, and the inactivation of neurons in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) can acutely trigger consumption. However, the neural circuit and cellular substrate of transition of olfactory perception into value-based actions remain elusive. We detected enhanced activity after social transmission between two mice in neurons of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) that target the NAc and receive projections from the PiC. Exposure to a conspecific potentiated the excitatory postsynaptic currents in NAc projectors, whereas blocking transmission from PiC to mPFC prevented social transmission. Thus, synaptic plasticity in the mPFC is a cellular substrate of social transmission of food safety.

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