Our goal is to understand how the brain responds to stress, and how stress changes the brain. Stress necessitates the immediate engagement of multiple neural and endocrine systems while also sensitizing behavioral and hormonal responses to future stressors. We are particularly interested in how this happens. Using electrophysiological approaches to interrogate CRHPVN neurons in the hypothalamus, we have described several synaptic and cellular mechanisms that are modified by a single stressor, demonstrating that stress leaves lasting alterations on synaptic plasticity potential. Although these neurons are the canonical controllers of the endocrine response to stress, our work has revealed a key role for these cells in distinct stress behaviors. Specifically, they are essential for gating active defensive behaviors and stress coping behaviors. Finally, we are interested in the link between stress and social behavior. Social interactions promote the communication of explicit and implicit information between individuals. Implicit or subconscious sharing of cues can be useful in conveying affective or emotional states, but it is also a means to transmit stress from one individual to another. Knowing the emotional state of others can guide future interactions, while an inability to decipher another’s affective state is a core feature of conditions like autism spectrum disorder.
Senior Scientist, Krembil Research Institute (Krembil)
Director, Research Institute, Krembil Research Institute (Krembil)