124 | Using the observational fear learning paradigm to study neural circuits underlying social memories in mice

Cognition, Behavior, and Memory

Author: Emiliano Lower | Email: emilianolower123@gmail.com

Emiliano Lower 1°2°, Juan Zorzi , Verónica de la Fuente 2°3°

1° Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Buenos Aires
2° Instituto de Fisiología, Biología Molecular y Neurociencias (IFIBYNE-UBA-CONICET)
3° Departamento de Fisiología, Biología Molecular y Celular, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Buenos Aires.

Social learning refers to situations in which individuals learn from other members of their social group. Both humans and non-human animals can acquire fears by witnessing their conspecifics being subjected to adverse events. In rodents, different paradigms exist to study social learning, such as observational fear learning (OFL). Although several studies have advanced the understanding of the circuits involved in social learning, mechanistic understanding at the circuit level remains limited. The overall goal of our long-term project is to comprehend the neural circuits involved in social learning. Specifically, we are interested in understanding whether oxytocin, crucial for processing social information, is involved in the formation of memories acquired through observation. Here, we present the development of the OFL paradigm using mice, in which a subject observes a conspecific being trained in a fear conditioning task. The demonstrator learns directly by experiencing tones (conditioned stimulus) and electric shocks (unconditioned stimulus), while the observer associates the tones with the distress of its conspecific. Additionally, we showcase experiments designed to investigate the role of oxytocin in OFL. Observational memories provide a useful model for studying the neural mechanisms of vicarious learning, and their investigation is crucial for gaining a better understanding of disorders that exhibit alterations in the social transmission of information, such as autism.