• the Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences


Original Article

Exp Neurobiol 2021; 30(1): 48-58

Published online February 28, 2021

© The Korean Society for Brain and Neural Sciences

Role of Medial Prefrontal Cortical Neurons and Oxytocin Modulation in the Establishment of Social Buffering

Taesub Jung, Minji Jang and Jihyun Noh*

Department of Science Education, Dankook University, Yongin 16890, Korea

Correspondence to: *To whom correspondence should be addressed.
TEL: 82-31-8005-3842, FAX: 82-31-8021-7231

Received: August 22, 2020; Revised: January 24, 2021; Accepted: February 18, 2021

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Fear-related behaviors are rigidly controlled by the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The mPFC is activated by the prosocial hormone oxytocin, which plays an important role in social buffering. We used a slice patch current-clamp recording in single- and pair-exposed rats who were subjected to electric shocks, to determine the cellular mechanism of the action of oxytocin in the mPFC under social buffering conditions. Pair-exposed rats showed a significant reduction in both freezing and passive avoidance behaviors compared to single-exposed rats. It was observed that input resistance in pyramidal neurons decreased in both single- and pair-exposed rats than na?ve rats, but input resistance in interneurons increased in pair-exposed rats than single-exposed rats. We found that the number of action potential (AP) spikes in the mPFC pyramidal neurons decreased significantly in pair-exposed rats than in single-exposed rats. The pyramidal neurons in the mPFC were similarly regulated by oxytocin in singleand pair-exposed rats, while the number of AP spikes in interneurons by oxytocin decreased in single-exposed rats, but there was no significant change in pair-exposed rats. Therefore, our findings reveal that a decrease in mPFC pyramidal neuronal activity in pair-exposed rats through social interaction induces a reduction in fear-related behavior via obstruction of fear-memory formation; however, no such reduction was observed in single-exposed rats. Moreover, we suggest that the oxytocin-mediated decrease in neuronal activity in the mPFC could facilitate social buffering.

Graphical Abstract

Keywords: Cortical neuron, Fear response, Oxytocin, Prefrontal cortex, Social buffering