Neural circuits that control stress-induced modulation of mood and behavior

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, the excessive persistence of these ‘acute stress reactions’ 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 the onset and persistence of acute stress reactions, with a major interest in determining the neural and molecular mechanisms that dictate susceptibility. Rather than ‘looking under the lamppost’ at already intensively analyzed brain regions, we focus on the Lateral Septum (LS), a 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