RWJF Health & Society Scholar:
Area(s) of Expertise:
Neuroscience, Genetics, Behavior
I am broadly interested in how genetic and experiential variation guide individual differences. A combination of genetic predisposition and biologically encoded experience contributes to diversity in personality, behavior, and likelihood to develop diseases, including mental health disorders. In order to better understand the contributions of these two sources of biological risk, I employ rodent models that are genetically and behaviorally tractable.
Currently, I am investigating how variation in regulatory DNA sequences directly contributes to differences in social behavior using lines of mice in which I have genetically altered the V1a receptor gene. I hypothesize that variation in regions peripheral to the coding portion of the gene influence where and how much V1a receptor is expressed in the brain. This, in turn, may influence individual and species diversity in vasopressin-mediated social behaviors. Thus, these mice represent and ideal model for exploring how differences in DNA sequence can influence behavior.
In addition, I also plan to explore how early social experience may impact individual differences in behavior and specifically explore its role in determining risk for developing mental health disorders. This work will take advantage of inbred mouse strains with identical genetic backgrounds, enabling me to dissociate the effects of genetic predisposition and social exposure.