Social attachments play a central role in human society. In fact, such attachments are so important that deficits in the ability to form meaningful social bonds are associated with a variety of psychological disorders. Although mother-infant bonding has been studied for many years, we only recently have begun to examine the processes that underlie social bonds between adults. Over the past decade, central dopamine has become a focus of such research, especially its role in pair bonding between mates in species that display monogamous life strategies. Neuroanatomical and pharmacological studies in rodents have firmly established central dopamine systems, especially the mesocorticolimbic dopamine circuitry, in the formation, expression, and maintenance of monogamous pair bonds. As this research has progressed, it has become apparent that there is considerable overlap between the processes that underlie pair bonding and those that mediate responses to abused substances. This suggests that social bonding and substance abuse each may affect the other. Herein we review the current state of knowledge of central dopamine involvement in pair bond formation, expression, and maintenance. We first describe the neuroanatomical substrate within which dopamine exerts its effects on social bonding. We then describe dopamine receptor subtype-specific influences on pair bonding and how dopamine receptor activation may interact with activation of other neurochemical systems. Finally, we describe possible interactions between social bonding and substance abuse.
- Nucleus accumbens