Oxytocin U19 BRAIN Initiative Grant Investigators
Meet the prominent researchers leading the Oxytocin U19 BRAIN Initiative Grant at NYU Langone’s Neuroscience Institute.
György Buzsáki, MD, PhD, The Biggs Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology
As part of the Oxytocin U19 BRAIN Initiative Grant, Dr. Buzsáki works to determine the effect of oxytocin signaling on neural activity. Previous research from the Buzsáki Lab has focused on how coordinated and rhythmic neural activity leads to physiological and behavioral outcomes in the cortex. Recently, they identified the lateral septum, a node of the hippocampus, as a functional center for social encounter–related memory and spatial position. Previous reports have implicated the lateral septum in the formation of memory. However, the full extent of the effect of oxytocin release and modulation of populations of oxytocinergic neurons in this region remains unclear.
The Buzsáki Lab is renowned for studying cortical circuits to characterize the role of sharp-wave ripples in learning and memory. In this grant, they examine oxytocin modulation of neural circuits and activity by performing in vivo single-unit recordings in behaving rodents with the aim of establishing a direct line between neural activity and learning and plasticity. Dr. Buzsáki is a world-renowned expert in cognitive neuroscience, and as part of this initiative, he aims to bridge the physiological signature of oxytocin-releasing neurons to state-dependent firing patterns. Ultimately, he hopes to understand how oxytocin signaling shapes socio-spatial behavior.
Moses V. Chao, PhD, Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology
Dr. Chao is a leader in the field who has made key discoveries for understanding how neurotrophic signaling molecules, such as nerve growth factor, control neural growth and survival. Recent projects led by the Chao Lab have identified how neurotrophic signaling regulates synaptic plasticity, learning and memory, and behavior.
Dr. Chao is the director of the Oxytocin Antibody Production Core and is responsible for managing antibody generation, validation, and distribution. Dr. Chao has world-class expertise in identifying the elusive intracellular signaling mechanisms of oxytocin. Under the leadership of Dr. Chao, the Oxytocin Antibody Production Core has generated specific antibodies for the oxytocin receptor, an immensely important advance given the lack of commercially available antibodies. To date, the Oxytocin Antibody Production Core has successfully generated and validated antibodies against the mouse oxytocin receptor. These antibodies are being used by our investigators to detect the oxytocin receptor across molecular and physiological systems and behavioral levels.
Robert C. Froemke, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology
Dr. Froemke has contributed extensively to our understanding of the physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying cortical synaptic plasticity. Dr. Froemke is an expert in oxytocin signaling and defining its role for controlling behavior. His lab uses behavioral, optogenetic, and circuit mapping studies in adult mice to determine the spatial and temporal signature of oxytocin. In particular, they examine how oxytocin modifies synaptic properties and neural circuits that give rise to social behaviors and parental care.
In this initiative, the Froemke Lab leverage their extensive expertise studying cortical synaptic plasticity toward mapping the circuits targeted by oxytocin using awake and behaving mice. By systematically tracing oxytocin connectivity in specific regions of the brain, Dr. Froemke and investigators in his lab will be able to provide an “atlas,” a socio-spatial circuit-based map of oxytocin signaling, and an understanding of the mechanisms by which oxytocin affects neural circuit activity by direct measurements of the excitatory and inhibitory synaptic strength downstream of oxytocin.
Dayu Lin, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology
Dr. Lin is an expert in circuits and animal behavior with a longstanding emphasis on the circuits that control male and female aggression. To examine the role of oxytocin in social behavior, the Lin Lab is using genetic models to study the effect of oxytocin knockdown in the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvL), a region Dr. Lin originally defined as playing a key role in aggression. Currently, the Lin Lab is assessing whether oxytocin signaling in the VMHvL is a prerequisite signaling event for male social defense and social fear.
It is not known how oxytocin affects neuronal firing or synaptic transmission. To bridge what is known about the modulatory chemogenetic effects of oxytocin and neural circuits of aggression, Dr. Lin uses genetic and optogenetic tools to label and activate oxytocin-positive neurons and carry out in vivo population recordings of the effect of oxytocin on cells in the VMHvL. These experiments will assess whether oxytocin is sufficient or necessary for eliciting certain types of animal behavior.
Adam Mar, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology
Dr. Mar is a distinguished expert in the design, advance, and implementation of translational animal models of diseases, including schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease, which better reflect the molecular and behavioral signatures of these diseases than other available models. As part of the U19 BRAIN Initiative Grant, Dr. Mar is the director of the Behavioral Optogenetics Core, leading the animal preparation and behavioral studies and coordinating research efforts between the Behavioral Optogenetics Core and other project teams.
The Behavioral Optogenetics Core ensures the maintenance and validation of animal lines for the expression of optogenetic constructs and other critical transgenes in the BRAIN Initiative Grant projects. Under the leadership of Dr. Mar, the Behavioral Optogenetics Core is a world-class facility that produces transgenic mice for the interrogation of molecular, circuit, electrophysiological, and behavioral sequelae of oxytocin modulation. In addition, the Behavioral Optogenetics Core works with project team members to assist with behavioral experiments and prepares animal models for optogenetic manipulation and monitoring.
Alisa R. Surkis, PhD, Associate Curator, Medical Library
Dr. Surkis, the head of data services and the translational science librarian for the NYU Health Sciences Library, has extensive experience in computational neuroscience and the standardization of data practices. Dr. Surkis leads the data services unit, which is a hub for the collection, management, and visualization of data. In addition, Dr. Surkis works on the development of dashboards and tools to measure citations and collaboration, as well as machine learning algorithms to classify studies along the translational research spectrum.
Dr. Surkis is the director of the Data Science Core, which is responsible for data management of both core and project activities. As a key investigator of the U19 BRAIN Initiative grant, Dr. Surkis directs the Data Science Core’s successful efforts towards developing new tools. These tools can be used by researchers for the exploration and classification of neural circuits at the single-cell level and as resources to facilitate data analysis and sharing.
Richard Tsien, DPhil, Director, Neuroscience Institute
Dr. Tsien is a world leader in the study of ion channels, cellular excitability, and synaptic transmission. Oxytocin signaling in the hippocampus is known to control peptide release, activate receptors, and modulate cell-to-cell transmission, including modulation of the M-current, a type of potassium current. As part of the Oxytocin U19 BRAIN Initiative Grant, Dr. Tsien and his laboratory are investigating how oxytocin modulation of synaptic transmission and vesicle release in specific brain regions elicits social behavior.
To this end, the Tsien Lab is using a combination of optogenetics, electrophysiological recordings, and behavioral assays to map and define the mechanism for oxytocin modulation of the hippocampal circuit, namely regions CA1 and CA2 as well as the cortex. They aim to reconstruct the interaction between oxytocin and its receptor, GPCR, and use optopharmacologic tools to trace activity from ligand receptor activation to synaptic transmission and define how this molecular sequence affects behavioral outcomes.