Although the modulation of social behaviors by most major neurochemical systems has been explored, there are still standouts, including the study of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP). VIP is a modulator of circadian, reproductive, and seasonal rhythms and is well known for its role in reproductive behavior, as it is the main vertebrate prolactin-releasing hormone. Originally isolated as a gut peptide, VIP and its cognate receptors are present in virtually every brain area that is important for social behavior, including all nodes of the core “social behavior network” (SBN). Furthermore, VIP cells show increased transcriptional activity throughout the SBN in response to social stimuli. Using a combination of comparative and mechanistic approaches in socially diverse species of estrildid finches and emberizid sparrows, we have identified neural “hotspots” in the SBN that relate to avian affiliative behavior, as well as neural “hotspots” that may represent critical nodes underlying a trade-off between aggression and parental care. Specifically, we have found that: (1) VIP fiber densities and VIP receptor binding in specific brain sites, such as the lateral septum, medial extended amygdala, arcopallium, and medial nidopallium, correlate with species and/or seasonal differences in flocking behavior, and (2) VIP cells and fibers within the anterior hypothalamus—caudocentral septal circuit relate positively to aggression and negatively to parental care while VIP elements in the mediobasal hypothalamus relate negatively to aggression and positively to parental care. Thus, while a given behavior or social context likely activates VIP circuitry throughout the SBN and beyond, key brain sites emerge as potential “hotspots” for the modulation of affiliation, aggression, and parental care.

You do not currently have access to this article.