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Playful behavior in rats is controlled by a specific area of their brains

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Rats are extremely playful creatures. They love playing chase, and they literally jump for joy when tickled. Central to this playfulness, a new study finds, are cells in a specific region of rats’ brains.

Neurons in the periaqueductal gray, or PAG, are active in rats during different kinds of play, scientists report July 28 in Neuron. And blocking the activity of those neurons makes the rodents much less playful.

The results give insight into a poorly understood behavior, particularly in terms of how play is controlled in the brain. “There are prejudices that it’s childish and not important, but play is an underrated behavior,” says Michael Brecht, a neuroscientist at Humboldt University in Berlin.

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