Relationship between Neurobiology and Behavior

How do differences in the brain relate to differences in behavior? My current research investigates the interplay between neurobiology and social behavior in the socially monogamous prairie vole. I am particularly interested in how spatial memory structures in the brain are related to mating tactic in the wild. If a vole has a spatial memory deficit, will it take a less monogamous, more “wanderer” tactic? To test this, I lesion the hippocampus in male prairie voles and track them daily in a semi-natural enclosure to determine mating tactics.

Beyond field studies, I am also interested in how the nonapetides oxytocin and vasopressin are related to memory. Does giving prairie voles these nonapeptides intranasally affect memory? Is there a difference between chronic dosing during adolescence and acute dosing before a memory test? How might intranasal oxytocin or vasopressin given during development affect oxytocin and vasopressin receptors in the brain?

Finally, early research in my graduate career has examined parenting behavior in prairie voles. Prairie voles are one of the few biparental mammals, making them a great species to study paternal behavior. Do prairie vole pups show a preference for parents based on sex and the quality of parenting given? Interestingly, few studies have looked at juvenile parenting behavior in prairie voles, even though prairie voles spend in the wild often spend a significant amount of time at the natal nest with younger siblings before dispersing. Do these juvenile alloparents have the ability to distinguish between sibling and non-sibling neonates? What do their oxytocin and vasopressin neurons look like in response to different stimuli?

Past Research

I spent four years at Indiana University in Dr. Laura Hurley’s lab studying social behavior in mice. Under the guidance of then-graduate student Dr. Sarah Keesom, I first investigated how the ultrasonic calls and behavior of mice changed under social isolation. I then conducted an honors thesis studying the vocal signature of female mouse squeaks and how female squeaks influenced male behavior in a courtship interaction. It was the time in Dr. Hurley’s lab that made me so excited about understanding social behavior and the neural underpinnings beneath it.