(photo credit: Charles Badland)
My research focuses primarily on the neurobiological substrates of social behavior and social detriments of mental health. In particular, my scientific interests encompass the role of neuropeptide and neurotransmitter circuits (including oxytocin, vasopressin, CRH, and dopamine) on regulating the (1) formation and maintain of close relationships and social bonds and (2) bi-directional relationship between stress and sociality. My laboratory employs a multitude of behavioral assays, neuronal circuit anatomical and activity mapping using various histological techniques, microdialysis, and viral neuronal tracing, and modern neuroscience tools such as optogenetics, chemogenetics, and viral gene delivery.
The long-term goal of this research is to deconstruct the neurobiology of sociality and develop novel therapeutic agents for the treatment of social and emotional disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and depression.
My laboratory is currently exploring the life history and neurobiology of the pair bond, the bond that is established between adult monogamous pairs, in the socially monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) as a model to discover the neurobiology that underlies how (1) new social relationships are formed, (2) social relationships promote resiliency and recovery from traumatic life events (known as social buffering), and (3) social loss serves as a major risk factor for morbidity of several mental health disorders. These research areas all feature emerging topics in the field of Social Neuroscience from expanding our knowledge of social stress (which is the most robust source and form of stress in our society) to implementing social support and peptide administration as novel therapeutics to improve the symptoms of mental health disorders associated with sociality.