The social brain

Scientists develop a new device to measure how different parts of the brain communicate during social interactions.

Illustration of a mouse with an E-scope device. Image credit: (Hur et al. 2024)

Social behaviour is important for many animals, especially humans. It governs interactions between individuals and groups. One of the regions involved in social behaviour is the cerebellum, a part of the brain commonly known for controlling movement. It is likely that the cerebellum connects and influences other socially important areas in the brain, such as the anterior cingulate cortex. How exactly these regions communicate during social interaction is not well understood.

One of the challenges studying communication between areas in the brain has been a lack of tools that can measure neural activity in multiple regions at once. To address this problem, Hur et al. developed a device called the E-Scope. The E-Scope can measure brain activity from two places in the brain at the same time. It can simultaneously record imaging and electrophysiological data of the different neurons. It is also small enough to be attached to animals without inhibiting their movements.

Hur et al. tested the E-Scope by studying neurons in two regions of the cerebellum, called the right Crus I and the dentate nucleus, and in the anterior cingulate cortex during social interactions in mice. The E-Scope recorded from the animals as they interacted with other mice and compared them with those in mice that interacted with objects.

During social interactions, Purkinje cells in the right Crus I were mostly less active, while neurons in the dentate nucleus and anterior cingulate cortex became overall more active. These results suggest that communication between the cerebellum and the anterior cingulate cortex is an important part of how the mouse brain coordinates social behaviour.

The study of Hur et al. deepens our understanding of the function of the cerebellum in social behaviour. The E-Scope is an openly available tool to allow researchers to record communication between remote brain areas in small animals. This could be important to researchers trying to understand conditions like autism, which can involve difficulties in social interaction, or injuries to the cerebellum resulting in personality changes.