A comprehensive assay of social motivation reveals sex-specific roles of autism-associated genes and oxytocin
Social motivation is critical to the development of typical social functioning. Social motivation, specifically one or more of its components (e.g., social reward seeking or social orienting), could be relevant for understanding phenotypes related to autism. We developed a social operant conditioning task to quantify effort to access a social partner and concurrent social orienting in mice. We established that mice will work for access to a social partner, identified sex differences, and observed high test-retest reliability. We then benchmarked the method with two test-case manipulations. Shank3B mutants exhibited reduced social orienting and failed to show social reward seeking. Oxytocin receptor antagonism decreased social motivation, consistent with its role in social reward circuitry. Overall, we believe that this method provides a valuable addition to the assessment of social phenotypes in rodent models of autism and the mapping of potentially sex-specific social motivation neural circuits.
Keywords: Shank3b; autism; behavioral assay; mice; operant conditioning; oxytocin; sex differences; sociability; social motivation.