PETRULIS - DE VRIES LAB
Sex differences in Neural Control of Social Behavior and Communication
Welcome to the Laboratory of Aras Petrulis and Geert J. de Vries at Georgia State University located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Petrulis and de Vries run a collaborative laboratory that explores the neural regulation of social and communicative behavior, with an emphasis on sex differences in these processes.
Current projects in the lab focus on the role of the neuropeptide vasopressin and its receptor systems in the regulation of social, communicative and emotional behavior.
Investigating the social and emotional role of the vasopressin system
Disorders of social behavior and communication are increasingly common and pose a substantial burden to society. These disorders, such as autism, often show sex differences in prevalence, expression, and severity. One explanation for these differences reflects dysfunction in the sexually different social brain. A particularly relevant neuropeptide system in this respect is the vasopressin (VP) innervation of the brain, which shows marked sex differences across many species, including humans, and has been implicated in aggressive as well as affiliation behavior. We are using modern viral and genetic techniques to specifically and directly target the sex-different VP cells in the extended amygdala as well as other VP cells in hypothalamus in order to understand their behavioral function as well as their inputs and outputs. This work is currently funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH121603).
The main receptor for vasopressin in the brain, V1aR, has been repeatedly implicated in social and emotional behavior and is now a major target for drug development for treating core symptoms of autism. Consequently, we are assessing, using pharmacological, viral and genetic techniques, how, when, and where V1aR signaling in brain influences communication behavior in adults. We are also evaluating effects of similar manipulations on oxytocin receptors as vasopressin can also act on this system. This work is currently funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (R03 MH120549) and the GSU Brains and Behavior Program.