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The Laboratory for Neurobiology of Social Interactions


Dr. Shlomo Wagner, Ph.D.


Dr. Shlomo Wagner
Head of Laboratory for Neurobiology of Social Interactions

Research Interests:

The survival and success of all mammals depend on their ability to communicate and interact with other individuals of the same species. These interactions range from courting and mating, through parent-offspring relations, to competitive and aggressive interactions. Although social interactions are mediated through various senses in distinct mammals, they finally activate similar conserved brain areas. Within these areas, the limbic system, which includes relatively primitive brain structures and was found to be involved in the processing of emotions, has a central role. Recently there has been a significant progress in identifying mammalian brain neuronal circuits involved in the formation and preservation of social information, such as memories mediating keen and mate recognition.

One of the most important animal models for brain research is the mouse. In rodents, including mice, social interactions are mediated mainly by molecules termed "pheromones".

Pheromones are detected by mammals using two sensory systems: 1 – the main olfactory system, also mediating the general sense of smell. 2 – The vomeronasal system, a separate chemosensory system, assumed to be dedicated for the detection of pheromones. Both systems send information regarding the detection of pheromones to a limbic structure called the amygdala, where this information is processed and elicit motor, endocrine and emotional responses.


 

Our laboratory investigates learning and memory processes involved in social interactions. The research aim is to understand the information processing in the neuronal networks which are involved in social interactions and to reveal the way by which this information is stored as memories, at the molecular, cellular and network levels. We are using a combination of behavioral, biochemical, molecular, electrophysiological and imaging methods in order to uncover cellular circuitry and to monitor changes in neuronal activity in these networks, following social interactions. We also use genetic engineering to create transgenic mice strains that will facilitate the research. Using these tools we have already created few transgenic mouse lines in which various pheromone receptors are labeled each with a distinct fluorescent protein.

Another subject which is explored in the laboratory is autism, one of the most devastating conditions in a broad range of developmental abnormalities of the central nervous system. Its prevalence has sharply increased over the past 10 years, with a current occurrence of about 0.7% of the population. Autism impairs mental function, and is associated with severe communication and perception disabilities. Despite the fact that this is a complicated disorder, with a poorly defined etiology, a multitude of evidence suggests that autism is a genetically-linked disorder. However, no single gene was identified as the direct cause of the disorder and many studies support the idea that this is in fact a multigenic phenotype.

One of the genes that are highly associated with the disorder is the gene encoding the receptor for the neuropeptide oxytocin. Across species, oxytocin plays a pivotal role in modulating social cognition and behavior. Specifically, recognition of a familiar individual was found in mice to depend upon oxytocin release in the medial amygdala. Furthermore, autistic children display significantly lower blood oxytocin levels and oxytocin sniffing was found to relieve some of autism-related symptoms. Together these and other evidence support a role for oxytocin in autism. However, despite the plethora of data regarding oxytocin little is known about the mechanisms and pathways by which oxytocin exerts its effect in the central nervous system.

In our lab we investigate the mechanisms by which oxytocin is changing neuronal activity in brain areas which are related to social behavior. We work in parallel on the mouse and human oxytocin systems in order to facilitate translation of basic scientific findings to treatment that may help people suffering from autism.

 

כל הזכויות שמורות לפקולטה למדעים והוראתם, אוניברסיטת חיפה, הר הכרמל, 31905
עודכן לאחרונה ב:26.6.09 | עיצוב האתר: איריס משלי | כתבו לנו