Our goal is to understand how internal states shape information processing in the brain. Instinctive behaviors such as parenting, aggression or mating are orchestrated by evolutionarily sculpted neural circuits. Considerable progress has been made in deconstructing these circuits, but is has also become clear that their function profoundly depends on the animal's current physiological – i.e. reproductive, metabolic etc. – state. We know little about the molecular, cellular and circuit-level mechanisms by which such states alter neural processing in vivo. Studying these mechanisms will provide us with crucial insights into brain function in health and disease.
Pregnancy is an ideal model to study these processes since it is a well-defined shift in reproductive state, associated with dramatic physiological and behavioral changes. The hormonal changes occurring during pregnancy have long been suspected to alter brain function, but the underlying molecular, cellular and circuit-level mechanisms remain largely unknown. We will use a multidisciplinary approach, combining molecular and cellular biology, circuit neuroscience and behavioral analysis to address these questions.
Circuit logic of internal state changes
We will study how pregnancy and other physiological states such as stress, sleep or hunger affect information processing at the level of entire circuits to instruct appropriate behavioral changes. We will make use of a broad range of state-of-the-art approaches (viral tracing, in vivo imaging / electrophysiology, optogenetics, behavioral assays) for this purpose.
Cellular mechanisms of pregnancy hormone action
We investigate the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which pregnancy hormones and other modulators alter information processing in individual neurons. Our goal is to (1) uncover principles for state-dependent changes in single neurons and (2) combine these principles with circuit-level studies (see below) to understand state-dependent changes in brain-wide processing and, ultimately, behavior.
We are developing novel genetic and viral tools to (1) visualize and interrogate neural circuits underlying instinctive behaviors and (2) determine how the function of these circuits is affected by internal states.