Brain-region-specific energy metabolism affected the social competitiveness of highly-anxious rats

This 2015 Swiss rodent study found:

Mitochondrial function in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region relevant for motivation and depression, is a critical mediating factor in the subordinate status displayed by high-anxious rats.

Treatment with nicotinamide, an amide form of vitamin B3 that boosts mitochondrial respiration, into the NAc [nucleus accumbens] of high-anxious rats at a time point before the social encounter and at a dose that increased accumbal mitochondrial respiration, abolished the disadvantage of high-anxious animals to become dominant against low-anxious animals.

Our findings highlight a key role for brain energy metabolism in social behavior and point to mitochondrial function in the nucleus accumbens as a potential marker and avenue of treatment for anxiety-related social disorders.”

The researchers handled individual differences of the outbred subjects by separating them into high-, intermediate-, and low-anxiety categories according to their responses on two tests. The high- and low-anxiety subjects were matched by weight, age, and social experience.

Here are a few examples of the researchers thoroughly ruling out confounding factors:

“Differences in social competitiveness are not related to overall differences in social motivation or sociability.


Although social competition did significantly increase corticosterone compared with baseline levels, there were no significant differences between anxiety groups at either time point.


Microinfusion of either ROT, MA, or 3NP [mitochondrial respiration inhibitors] reduced the success of treated animals to win the social contest.

Importantly, these treatments did not induce side effects on social investigation or auto-grooming during social competition, or alter locomotor activity, anxiety, or sociability in additional experiments.

Furthermore, these inhibitor treatments did not produce neurotoxic effects, as the drugs were infused at low doses and we confirmed the absence of lesion and neuronal death.

The effects of complex I or complex II inhibition on social competition were specific for the NAc, as infusions of the same inhibitors into the BLA [basolateral amygdala] had no effect on social dominance and did not affect general locomotor activity.

We further showed that, unlike infusion of muscimol [a GABA receptor agonist] in the BLA that interferes with BLA-dependent auditory fear conditioning, 3NP did not affect conditioning in this task, discarding that neuronal inactivation could be a general mechanism whereby impairing mitochondrial function would affect putative functions from the affected brain region.


The impact of mitochondrial function in social competition described here is not mediated by oxidative stress.”

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/50/15486.full “Mitochondrial function in the brain links anxiety with social subordination”

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