Neural circuitry of stress-induced behavioral states

Traumatic experiences such as traffic accidents, domestic abuse, or combat can profoundly alter the way we feel, think, and behave. These changes function to increase survival in the face of danger, and in most people are transient and do not cause long-lasting disruptions of physical or mental health. In susceptible individuals, however, excessively persistent responses to such experiences can ultimately become maladaptive and result in psychiatric disorders (e.g. Post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression) for which existing treatments are inadequate.

Our goal is to define the neural circuits and genes that control responses to acute or chronic stressors, with a major interest in determining the mechanistic bases underlying stress-related mental illness and drug addiction. Rather than ‘looking under the lamppost’ at already intensively analyzed brain regions, our starting point is the Lateral Septum (LS), a large complex structure that is robustly activated by stressful stimuli and tunes the severity of stress-induced behavioral states, but which has received relatively little attention and so remains poorly understood.

We are employing an interdisciplinary approach (molecular biology, genetics, viral vectors, in vivo calcium imaging, electrophysiology, and behavior) to identify the specific LS cell types, genes, and circuits that control stress-induced behavioral states.

 

Boston Children's Hospital             Harvard Medical School