Researchers Discover Brain Circuit Underlying Synchronized Spontaneous Movement of Individuals in Groups – ScienceDaily


Individual fish in schools scatter in unison when there is a predator in their midst.

Similar examples of precisely coordinated group movements and immobility during threats have long been observed in insects and mammals.

Now, for the first time, a brain pathway has been discovered that enables individual animals to quickly coordinate a unified response, without the need for rehearsal.

Recently published in the print edition of the journal Biological PsychiatryVirginia Tech scientists from the VTC’s Fralin Institute for Biomedical Research describe how they studied synchronized immobility in pairs of mice and identified the primary brain circuit responsible for this behavior.

The study provides a specific goal for advancing research on the poorly understood brain activity that underlies coordinated group movement and, more broadly, social communication in general, and that is compromised in a variety of human neuropsychiatric conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism. Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Social Communication Disorder (SCD).

“Examples of coordinated defensive responses in nature are numerous — bulls, for example, form a circle when faced with a threat,” said Alexei Morozov, assistant professor at the Fralin Institute for Biomedical Research and corresponding author of the study. “Synchronization under threat is an evolutionarily conserved survival mechanism that occurs across species, including humans. This type of behavior has not been measured in the laboratory before, but we can now identify this response and explore the underlying mechanisms.”

Rats were trained to associate an auditory cue with a potential threat, such as a fire drill. Researchers studied the parts of the brain that process and remember fear and social information, and found that a specific connection between two parts of the brain, the ventral hippocampus and the basolateral amygdala, plays an important role in coordinating behavior when faced with a threat.

The information points to a way to investigate these brain connections in more complex situations. Although the study began with pairs of individuals, more research is needed to determine whether the same pathway is responsible for coordinating larger group behavior, such as swarming, in larger groups.

“This gives us a way towards a deeper understanding of social behavior,” Morozov said. “At home and at work, people coordinate and share information with their partners. Now we have a model that helps us understand the underlying brain pathway.”

“This is among the most important discoveries made in recent years about the localization and underlying underlying mechanisms in the brain that mediate these types of important social interactions,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director. From the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “While pathologies in these behaviors are well characterized in human clinical populations, attempts at effective treatments have been hampered by a lack of understanding of the brain circuits and biological processes that are affected. Dr. Morozov and his team designed and executed an elegant series of experiments in mice to provide a potential strong base from which to develop This science and we hope will shorten the time to develop more strategically targeted therapies for humans.”

Associate Research Professor Wataru Ito and Research Assistant Alexander Palmer, also of the Fralen Biomedical Research Institute’s Neurobiology Research Center, participated in the research study.


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