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Touch neurons underlying dopaminergic pleasurable touch and sexual receptivity

Elias_2023_figure snip

Authors: Leah J. Elias, Isabella K. Succi, Melanie D. Schaffler, William Foster, Mark A. Gradwell, Manon Bohic, Akira Fushiki, Aman Upadhyay, Lindsay L. Ejoh, Ryan Schwark, Rachel Frazer, Brittany Bistis, Jessica E. Burke, Victoria Saltz, Jared E. Boyce, Anissa Jhumka, Rui M. Costa, Victoria E. Abraira, Ishmail Abdus-Saboor
Publication: Cell
Date: February 2, 2023
Link to article: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009286742201577X


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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