An endocannabinoid-regulated basolateral amygdala-nucleus accumbens circuit modulates sociability

Oakleigh M. Folkes, Rita Báldi, Veronika Kondev, David J. Marcus, Nolan D. Hartley, Brandon D. Turner, Jade K. Ayers, Jordan J. Baechle, Maya P. Misra, Megan Altemus, Carrie A. Grueter, Brad A. Grueter, Sachin Patel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Deficits in social interaction (SI) are a core symptom of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); however, treatments for social deficits are notably lacking. Elucidating brain circuits and neuromodulatory signaling systems that regulate sociability could facilitate a deeper understanding of ASD pathophysiology and reveal novel treatments for ASDs. Here we found that in vivo optogenetic activation of the basolateral amygdala-nucleus accumbens (BLA-NAc) glutamatergic circuit reduced SI and increased social avoidance in mice. Furthermore, we found that 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) endocannabinoid signaling reduced BLA-NAc glutamatergic activity and that pharmacological 2-AG augmentation via administration of JZL184, a monoacylglycerol lipase inhibitor, blocked SI deficits associated with in vivo BLA-NAc stimulation. Additionally, optogenetic inhibition of the BLA-NAc circuit markedly increased SI in the Shank3B-/- mouse, an ASD model with substantial SI impairment, without affecting SI in WT mice. Finally, we demonstrated that JZL184 delivered systemically or directly to the NAc also normalized SI deficits in Shank3B-/- mice, while ex vivo JZL184 application corrected aberrant NAc excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission and reduced BLA-NAc-elicited feed-forward inhibition of NAc neurons in Shank3B-/- mice. These data reveal circuit-level and neuromodulatory mechanisms regulating social function relevant to ASDs and suggest 2-AG augmentation could reduce social deficits via modulation of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the NAc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1728-1742
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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