The role of the prefrontal cortex in social interactions of animal models and the implications for autism spectrum disorder

Alok Nath Mohapatra, Shlomo Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Social interaction is a complex behavior which requires the individual to integrate various internal processes, such as social motivation, social recognition, salience, reward, and emotional state, as well as external cues informing the individual of others’ behavior, emotional state and social rank. This complex phenotype is susceptible to disruption in humans affected by neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Multiple pieces of convergent evidence collected from studies of humans and rodents suggest that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a pivotal role in social interactions, serving as a hub for motivation, affiliation, empathy, and social hierarchy. Indeed, disruption of the PFC circuitry results in social behavior deficits symptomatic of ASD. Here, we review this evidence and describe various ethologically relevant social behavior tasks which could be employed with rodent models to study the role of the PFC in social interactions. We also discuss the evidence linking the PFC to pathologies associated with ASD. Finally, we address specific questions regarding mechanisms employed by the PFC circuitry that may result in atypical social interactions in rodent models, which future studies should address.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1205199
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by ISF-NSFC joint research program (grant No. 3459/20 to SW), the Israel Science Foundation (grants No. 1361/17 and 2220/22 to SW), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space of Israel (Grant No. 3-12068 to SW), the Ministry of Health of Israel (ERA-NET 2022 grant No. 3-18380), and the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (grant No. 2019186 to SW).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Mohapatra and Wagner.


  • autism
  • prefrontal cortex
  • rodent models
  • social behavior
  • social interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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