Negative energy balance hinders prosocial helping behavior

Macarena Pozo*, Maria Milà-Guasch, Roberta Haddad-Tóvolli, Mehdi Boutagouga Boudjadja, Iñigo Chivite, Miriam Toledo, Alicia G. Gómez-Valadés, Elena Eyre, Sara Ramírez, Arnaud Obri, Inbal Ben Ami Bartal, Giuseppe D'Agostino, Joan Costa-Font, Marc Claret*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The internal state of an animal, including homeostatic requirements, modulates its behavior. Negative energy balance stimulates hunger, thus promoting a range of actions aimed at obtaining food. While these survival actions are well established, the influence of the energy status on prosocial behavior remains unexplored. We developed a paradigm to assess helping behavior in which a free mouse was faced with a conspecific trapped in a restrainer. We measured the willingness of the free mouse to liberate the confined mouse under diverse metabolic conditions. Around 42% of ad libitum–fed mice exhibited a helping behavior, as evidenced by the reduction in the latencies to release the trapped cagemate. This behavior was independent of subsequent social contact reward and was associated with changes in corticosterone indicative of emotional contagion. This decision-making process was coupled with reduced blood glucose excursions and higher Adenosine triphosphate (ATP):Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) ratios in the forebrain of helper mice, suggesting that it was a highly energy-demanding process. Interestingly, chronic (food restriction and type 2 diabetes) and acute (chemogenetic activation of hunger-promoting AgRP neurons) situations mimicking organismal negative energy balance and enhanced appetite attenuated helping behavior toward a distressed conspecific. To investigate similar effects in humans, we estimated the influence of glycated hemoglobin (a surrogate of long-term glycemic control) on prosocial behavior (namely charity donation) using the Understanding Society dataset. Our results evidenced that organismal energy status markedly influences helping behavior and that hypothalamic AgRP neurons are at the interface of metabolism and prosocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2218142120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - 11 Apr 2023


  • AgRP neurons
  • energy status
  • helping behavior
  • hunger
  • hypothalamus


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