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Neurobiology of Social Behavior Circuits

Wednesday, June 2, 2021 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm


Catherine Dulac, Ph.D.
Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Lee and Ezpeleta Professor of Arts and Sciences
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Harvard University

Dr. Dulac is the Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Lee and Ezpeleta Professor of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. Her lab aims to understand the molecular, neuronal, and circuit basis of instinctive social behaviors. She and her team apply molecular, genetic, and optical techniques in their investigations of the social brain, using the mouse as a model organism. Some of the team’s projects include identifying: the neuronal circuits underlying pheromone signaling in mating behaviors; the circuits underlying parental behavior and pup-directed aggression based on the animal’s sex and physiological state; the role of the amygdala in social and defensive behavior; and genomic imprinting in the developing and adult mouse brain. She won a 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences "for deconstructing the complex behavior of parenting to the level of cell-types and their wiring, and demonstrating that the neural circuits governing both male and female-specific parenting behaviors are present in both sexes."


Social interactions are essential for animals to survive, reproduce, raise their young. Over the years, my lab has attempted to decipher the unique characteristics of social recognition: what are the unique cues that trigger distinct social behaviors, what is the nature and identity of social behavior circuits, how is the function of these circuits different in males and females and how are they modulated by the animal physiological status? In this lecture, I will describe our recent progress in understanding how different parts of the brain participate in the positive and negative control of parental behavior in males and females, providing a new framework to understand the regulation of adult-infant interactions in health and disease. I will also describe how new approaches in in situ single cell transcriptomics have enabled us to uncover specific hypothalamic cell populations involved in distinct social behaviors. Finally, I will describe our most recent work –fit for our current pandemic era—uncovering essential brain circuits underlying sickness symptoms in mice.

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