The neural circuits of social preference

Year of award: 2016


  • Dr Elena Dreosti

    University College London

Project summary

Humans are fundamentally social beings. Our ability to consider the thoughts of others and communicate with them is unparalleled. However, even the most complex social skill requires a basic drive to approach other members of our species. This essential social preference is hard-wired into our brain. For example, newborns immediately prefer to look at faces. If this preference is somehow lost, then our entire social development will be affected.

I want to know how this basic social drive is built into the brain so that we can understand how it might be impaired. This is difficult to study in humans because the brain circuits involved are established before we are born. Brains that develop ex utero can be studied in much more detail.

One such brain is that of the zebrafish. These small fish are transparent when young and develop from a single cell into a social organism in just a few weeks. They provide a unique opportunity to watch the circuitry that creates social preference form, and to see what goes wrong in developmental diseases like autism.