Background and Hypotheses

Social dysfunction in schizophrenia includes symptoms of withdrawal and deficits in social skills, social cognition, and social motivation. Based on the course of illness, with social withdrawal occurring prior to psychosis onset, it is likely that the severity of social withdrawal/isolation contributes to schizophrenia neuropathology.

Study Design

We review the current literature on social isolation in rodent models and provide a conceptual framework for its relationship to social withdrawal and neural circuit dysfunction in schizophrenia. We next review preclinical tasks of social behavior used in schizophrenia-relevant models and discuss strengths and limitations of existing approaches. Lastly, we consider new effort-based tasks of social motivation and their potential for translational studies in schizophrenia.

Study Results

Social isolation rearing in rats produces profound differences in behavior, pharmacologic sensitivity, and neurochemistry compared to socially reared rats. Rodent models relevant to schizophrenia exhibit deficits in social behavior as measured by social interaction and social preference tests. Newer tasks of effort-based social motivation are being developed in rodents to better model social motivation deficits in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Conclusions

While experimenter-imposed social isolation provides a viable experimental model for understanding some biological mechanisms linking social dysfunction to clinical and neural pathology in schizophrenia, it bypasses critical antecedents to social isolation in schizophrenia, notably deficits in social reward and social motivation. Recent efforts at modeling social motivation using effort-based tasks in rodents have the potential to quantify these antecedents, identify models (eg, developmental, genetic) that produce deficits, and advance pharmacological treatments for social motivation.

This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.