We are interested in how the brain regulates social behavior. In order to live in social groups, animals must exhibit contextually appropriate social behavior. The inability to do so results in poor social relationships, and even an animal’s extrication from their social group. In humans, improper social functioning is also a hallmark of neuropsychiatric disorders. Despite the importance of social functioning, not enough is known about how it is mediated by the brain. Our lab studies the neural underpinnings of social behavior at multiple stages: processing of social information, attaining and changing social status, and the neurobiological variation associated with social status.
Processing of Social Status Signals
Many species use social cues or signals to guide the expression of contextually appropriate behavior, yet little is known about how the brain processes such information. We are currently investigating this question by exposing mice to social cues and analyzing neural excitation and the expression of other receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain using various histological techniques.Read more.
Social Status Transitions
Subdominant male mice are able to rapidly respond to the emergence of power vacuums. When an alpha male is removed from a hierarchy, subdominant males rapidly (within 3 minutes) recognize that there exists a social opportunity and they aggressively exert their own dominance over all other animals in the group. These males socially ascend to become the new alpha males and are able to stay at the top of the hierarchy. This demonstrates great social competence on behalf of these males to be able to so quickly respond to a change in the social context of the group.Read more.
Neurobiological Correlates of Social Status
Animals of dominant, sub-dominant and subordinate status exhibit different neurobiological features. These differences likely are related to the differential requirements of animals of each rank in behaviors including social cognition, spatial cognition, feeding, drinking, activity, sleep, aggression, social reward etc. An important step to understanding how the brain facilitates status-specific behavior is to characterize how variation in key neurobiological markers is associated with social status. In our current work, we are taking a more explorative approach to investigate brain gene expression profiles of mice varying in social status. Using Tag-based RNA-Sequencing (Tag-Seq) we have identified genes and gene networks that are differentially regulated between dominant and subordinate male mice in both the forebrain and midbrain.Read more.