Instytut Biologii Doświadczalnej

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Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, st. Ludwika Pasteura 3, 02-093 Warsaw
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    Socially transferred emotions – the neural basis of empathy.

    Emotional contagion, i.e., the capacity to be affected by and/or share the emotional state of another individual, is considered to be the simplest form of empathy. We investigate neural representations of emotional states in interacting animals using behavioral models of socially transferred positive and negative emotions designed in our laboratory. To understand how the systems underlying social communication operate we employ rat and mouse models, as well as neuronal tracing and optogenetic techniques.

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    Neural mechanisms of impaired social behaviors

    Using high-throughput behavioral measures of social interactions we have developed (Eco-HAB system) we characterize neuronal circuits and cellular mechanisms underlying social interactions and validate tissue-specific therapeutic interventions using mouse models of synaptopathies relevant to autism spectrum disorders.

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    Social buffering

    We are interested in the functional interplay between the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala resulting in fear contagion or social buffering effects.

About our lab

Understanding of how the brain controls social life is one of the most fascinating quests of neuroscience. Although social interactions among individuals are central to most animals, including humans, we are only beginning to understand the underlying neural processes. To study mechanisms of social interactions at the level of neural circuits and cells we need simple animal models. One of the simplest forms of socially evoked emotions is emotional contagion, understood as the capacity to be affected by and/or share the emotional state of another individual. The search for the ultimate neural correlates of emotional contagion is very much in its infancy, but the recent development of relevant rat and mouse behavioral models combined with optogenetic, electrophysiological, and imaging techniques has accelerated the rate of discovery. The two main questions our research is focused on are:

  1. Are the neural circuits underlying positive and negative social emotions distinct?
  2. Does the social brain exist? i.e., Are there neural circuits specialized in social emotions?

Malfunctioning neural circuits governing social interactions are responsible for a number of neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorder and psychopathy. Our research focuses on the brain circuits and cellular mechanisms underlying impaired social interactions. We are trying to test the possibilities for therapeutic intervention in mouse genetic and idiopathic models of autism spectrum disorder. Using state-of-the-art automatic systems for assessing social behavior and neurobiological tools we would like to explain why some individuals are more likely to suffer from autism than others.


Contact us

+48 22 822 53 42