Combined Social and Spatial Coding in a Descending Projection from the Prefrontal Cortex

Malavika Murugan, Hee Jae Jang, Michelle Park, Ellia M. Miller, Julia Cox, Joshua P. Taliaferro, Nathan F. Parker, Varun Bhave, Hong Hur, Yupu Liang, Alexander R. Nectow, Jonathan William Pillow, Ilana Basya Witten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


Social behaviors are crucial to all mammals. Although the prelimbic cortex (PL, part of medial prefrontal cortex) has been implicated in social behavior, it is not clear which neurons are relevant or how they contribute. We found that PL contains anatomically and molecularly distinct subpopulations that target three downstream regions that have been implicated in social behavior: the nucleus accumbens (NAc), amygdala, and ventral tegmental area. Activation of NAc-projecting PL neurons (PL-NAc), but not the other subpopulations, decreased the preference for a social target. To determine what information PL-NAc neurons convey, we selectively recorded from them and found that individual neurons were active during social investigation, but only in specific spatial locations. Spatially specific manipulation of these neurons bidirectionally regulated the formation of a social-spatial association. Thus, the unexpected combination of social and spatial information within the PL-NAc may contribute to social behavior by supporting social-spatial learning. Prefrontal neurons that project to the accumbens encode a combination of social and spatial information and bidirectionally modulate social-spatial learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1663-1677.e16
Issue number7
StatePublished - Dec 14 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


  • calcium imaging
  • medial prefrontal cortex
  • nucleus accumbens
  • optogenetics
  • social behavior


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