Modeling socially anhedonic syndromes: Genetic and pharmacological manipulation of opioid neurotransmission in mice

C. Cinque, S. Pondiki, D. Oddi, M. G. Di Certo, S. Marinelli, A. Troisi, A. Moles, F. R. D'Amato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social anhedonia, or the diminished capacity to experience pleasure and reward from social affiliation, is a major symptom of different psychiatric disorders, including some forms of infantile autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. The brain opioid hypothesis of social attachment is a promising model for achieving insights into how neurobiological and developmental factors contribute to the regulation of social reward. In this study, genetic knocking-out and naltrexone (NTRX) treatment during the first 4 days of life were used to disrupt opioid neurotransmission in mouse pups and their attachment relationships with the mother. Both permanent (genetic) and transient (pharmacological) manipulations of opioid neurotransmission exerted long-term effects on social affiliation. When juveniles, both -opioid receptor knockout mice and NTRX-treated pups showed reduced interest in peers and no preference for socially rewarding environment. These results demonstrate that sociability in juvenile mice is highly dependent on the establishment during infancy of a positive affective relationship with their mothers and that opioid neurotransmission has a major role in the regulation of social hedonic capacity. If the validity of this animal model will be confirmed by future research, translational studies focusing on the interaction between early experience and opioid neurotransmission could provide useful insights for identifying endophenotypes of human psychiatric disorders associated with social anhedonia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere155
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • affiliation
  • animal model
  • attachment behavior
  • m-KO mice
  • naltrexone
  • ultrasonic vocalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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