Primary Areas of Interest
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 NIMH (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 NIMH (R03 MH120549) and the GSU Brains and Behavior Program.