Social and asocial learning in zebrafish are encoded by a shared brain network that is differentially modulated by local activation

Júlia S. Pinho, Vincent Cunliffe, Kyriacos Kareklas, Giovanni Petri & Rui F. Oliveira
Communications biology
6, Article number: 633 (2023)
June 13, 2023


Group living animals use social and asocial cues to predict the presence of reward or punishment in the environment through associative learning. The degree to which social and asocial learning share the same mechanisms is still a matter of debate. We have used a classical conditioning paradigm in zebrafish, in which a social (fish image) or an asocial (circle image) conditioned stimulus (CS) have been paired with an unconditioned stimulus (US=food), and we have used the expression of the immediate early gene c-fos to map the neural circuits associated with each learning type. Our results show that the learning performance is similar to social and asocial CSs. However, the brain regions activated in each learning type are distinct and a community analysis of brain network data reveals segregated functional submodules, which seem to be associated with different cognitive functions involved in the learning tasks. These results suggest that, despite localized differences in brain activity between social and asocial learning, they share a common learning module and social learning also recruits a specific social stimulus integration module. Therefore, our results support the occurrence of a common general-purpose learning module, that is differentially modulated by localized activation in social and asocial learning.

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