The central focus of our research aims to answer:
1) How are social processing neurons intertwined with positive and negative valence systems?
2) How does the brain and periphery integrate external and internal stimuli to drive behavioral states?
Dysregulated social and emotional processing is a debilitating issue across a wide range of neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders, major depression, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorders. These disorders have severe impacts on individual well being and represent a tremendous economic burden. Since social and emotional disruptions often co-occur, a key question is how social processing neurons are intertwined with or embedded in positive and negative valence systems. This interplay is likely important to link social contexts with emotional representations and promote motivation. However, the precise functional neural circuitry that orchestrates these complex interactions remains unresolved and it is unclear whether social and nonsocial emotional information is processed through overlapping or distinct pathways. The goal of our research is to use in vivo circuit level approaches to monitor and acutely manipulate the activity of precise neural circuits during social and nonsocial behaviors. Completion of the proposed aims is expected to be impactful because these studies will illuminate the causal and natural neural dynamics that underlie social and nonsocial emotional behavior. Identifying how these processes interact at the individual neuron level is of critical importance because without this information, we are unlikely to discover the ways in which certain social and nonsocial behavioral abnormalities arise.
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