Neural Representations of Social Homeostasis
Kay Tye’s lab seeks to understand the neural-circuit basis of emotion that leads to motivated behaviors such as social interaction, reward-seeking and avoidance. Her lab employs a multidisciplinary approach including cellular-resolution recordings, behavioral assays and optogenetics, a technique that activates certain cells with light, to find mechanistic explanations for how these emotional and motivational states influence behavior in health and disease. She focuses on an area of the brain called the amygdala as well as an interconnected circuit called the limbic system, which is implicated in emotional states such as fear. By using optogenetics, she can control specific neurons in the amygdala to decipher their function, genetic signature and communication patterns. Her lab has shown that these differences lead to either positive or negative reinforcement in the brain. This may explain why, for example, the sound of a gunshot is stressful for a refugee who has experienced war, but induces excitement in a runner about to start a race. The findings from Tye’s lab may help to inform treatments for a multitude of neuropsychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression, addiction and impairments in social behavior.
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