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:
- Are the neural circuits underlying positive and negative social emotions distinct?
- 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.