Our lab employs an interdisciplinary approach combining single-cell and spatial transcriptomics with genetic, behavioral and systems neuroscience tools in rodents to uncover fundamental principles underlying natural social behaviors such as mating, aggression and parenting.
We hope that a blend of hypothesis- and curiosity-driven science will help us gain mechanistic insights into behavior and physiology.
Current research in the lab focuses on the following broad areas:
Cell-type specific mechanisms governing behavior
The brain consists of numerous cell-types defined by their morphologies, connectivities and molecular profiles. While neuroscience is still grappling with the best ways to define cell-types, gene expression profiles provide useful molecular points of entry to functionally interrogate specific cell-types in the context of behavior.
We have recently uncovered the spatial and molecular diversity of neurons in the mouse hypothalamus- a region necessary for diverse social behaviors and homeostatic functions. A major goal of the lab is to understand the function of these genetically identified neuronal populations in the context of innate social behaviors and understand their information processing role within the circuits they form.
The neurobiology of social organization
Many species organize into social groups to maximize survival and optimize resources. However, neurobiological explorations of social organization have been limited to a handful of model organisms, limiting our knowledge of the mechanisms underlying diverse forms of group behavior.
Our lab will take a comparative approach to explore the neural circuit and molecular bases of a unique type of social organization known as eusociality, characterized by caste-like social hierarchies often containing a single reproductive "queen".
Eusociality has evolved independently in a handful of arthropods and only two known mammalian species, including the Naked Mole Rat (Heterocephalus glaber). These subterranean rodents are truly unique in their adaptations, providing a model to explore a wide range of biological questions. By using comparative genomics, transcriptomics and viral approaches, we hope to better understand the mechanisms underlying the establishment of social hierarchies and more generally, gain deeper insights into the origins of behavioral diversity.
The recent explosion of new tools and techiques has had a transformative impact on neuroscience. But there are still some questions that lie beyond reach due to a lack of tools to investigate them. We are developing new genetic and viral tools to enable us to explore long-standing questions about the role of development, experience and internal state in shaping and modulating social behaviors. We aim to incorporate sufficient flexibility in our tool design to enable their use beyond the questions we are asking.