Touch neurons underlying dopaminergic pleasurable touch and sexual receptivity

Leah J. Elias, Isabella K. Succi, Melanie D. Schaffler, William Foster, Mark A. Gradwell, Manon Bohic, Akira Fushiki, Aman Upadhyay, Lindsay L. Ejoh, Ryan Schwark, Rachel Frazer, Brittany Bistis, Jessica E. Burke, Victoria Saltz, Jared E. Boyce, Anissa Jhumka, Rui M. Costa, Victoria E. Abraira, Ishmail Abdus-Saboor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Pleasurable touch is paramount during social behavior, including sexual encounters. However, the identity and precise role of sensory neurons that transduce sexual touch remain unknown. A population of sensory neurons labeled by developmental expression of the G protein-coupled receptor Mrgprb4 detects mechanical stimulation in mice. Here, we study the social relevance of Mrgprb4-lineage neurons and reveal that these neurons are required for sexual receptivity and sufficient to induce dopamine release in the brain. Even in social isolation, optogenetic stimulation of Mrgprb4-lineage neurons through the back skin is sufficient to induce a conditioned place preference and a striking dorsiflexion resembling the lordotic copulatory posture. In the absence of Mrgprb4-lineage neurons, female mice no longer find male mounts rewarding: sexual receptivity is supplanted by aggression and a coincident decline in dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Together, these findings establish that Mrgprb4-lineage neurons initiate a skin-to-brain circuit encoding the rewarding quality of social touch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-590.e16
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


  • peripheral optogenetics
  • pleasure
  • reward pathway
  • spinal cord
  • touch


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