Mouse Social Network Dynamics and Community Structure are Associated with Plasticity-Related Brain Gene Expression

Williamson, Cait Mary; Franks, Becca; Curley, James P.

Laboratory studies of social behavior have typically focused on dyadic interactions occurring within a limited spatiotemporal context. However, this strategy prevents analyses of the dynamics of group social behavior and constrains identification of the biological pathways mediating individual differences in behavior. In the current study, we aimed to identify the spatiotemporal dynamics and hierarchical organization of a large social network of male mice. We also sought to determine if standard assays of social and exploratory behavior are predictive of social behavior in this social network and whether individual network position was associated with the mRNA expression of two plasticity-related genes, DNA methyltransferase 1 and 3a. Mice were observed to form a hierarchically organized social network and self-organized into two separate social network communities. Members of both communities exhibited distinct patterns of socio-spatial organization within the vivaria that was not limited to only agonistic interactions. We further established that exploratory and social behaviors in standard behavioral assays conducted prior to placing the mice into the large group was predictive of initial network position and behavior but were not associated with final social network position. Finally, we determined that social network position is associated with variation in mRNA levels of two neural plasticity genes, DNMT1 and DNMT3a, in the hippocampus but not the mPOA. This work demonstrates the importance of understanding the role of social context and complex social dynamics in determining the relationship between individual differences in social behavior and brain gene expression.


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Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience

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November 10, 2016