The utility of behavioral models and modules in molecular analyses of social behavior

Authors

  • Andrew B. Barron,

    1. Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
    2. Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behaviour, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
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  • Gene E. Robinson

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
    2. Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL 61801, USA
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*G. E. Robinson, Department of Entomology and Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 505 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA. E-mail: generobi@life.uiuc.edu

Abstract

It is extremely difficult to trace the causal pathway relating gene products or molecular pathways to the expression of behavior. This is especially true for social behavior, which being dependent on interactions and communication between individuals is even further removed from molecular-level events. In this review, we discuss how behavioral models can aid molecular analyses of social behavior. Various models of behavior exist, each of which suggest strategies to dissect complex behavior into simpler behavioral ‘modules.’ The resulting modules are easier to relate to neural processes and thus suggest hypotheses for neural and molecular function. Here we discuss how three different models of behavior have facilitated understanding the molecular bases of aspects of social behavior. We discuss the response threshold model and two different approaches to modeling motivation, the state space model and models of reinforcement and reward processing. The examples we have chosen illustrate how models can generate testable hypotheses for neural and molecular function and also how molecular analyses probe the validity of a model of behavior. We do not champion one model over another; rather, our examples illustrate how modeling and molecular analyses can be synergistic in exploring the molecular bases of social behavior.

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