Friday, February 17, 2023

The touch sensitive nerve cells that make mice (and probably us) horny.

From Elias et al. (open source) in the journal Cell:  


• Activation of Mrgprb4-lineage touch neurons induces lordosis-like posture
• Activation of Mrgprb4-lineage touch neurons is rewarding
• Mrgprb4-lineage touch neurons are required for female sexual receptivity
• Mrgprb4-lineage touch neurons engage dopaminergic neurons during social behavior
Pleasurable touch is paramount during social behavior, including sexual encounters. However, the identity and precise role of sensory neurons that transduce sexual touch remain unknown. A population of sensory neurons labeled by developmental expression of the G protein-coupled receptor Mrgprb4 detects mechanical stimulation in mice. Here, we study the social relevance of Mrgprb4-lineage neurons and reveal that these neurons are required for sexual receptivity and sufficient to induce dopamine release in the brain. Even in social isolation, optogenetic stimulation of Mrgprb4-lineage neurons through the back skin is sufficient to induce a conditioned place preference and a striking dorsiflexion resembling the lordotic copulatory posture. In the absence of Mrgprb4-lineage neurons, female mice no longer find male mounts rewarding: sexual receptivity is supplanted by aggression and a coincident decline in dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Together, these findings establish that Mrgprb4-lineage neurons initiate a skin-to-brain circuit encoding the rewarding quality of social touch.

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