Our lab explores the neural basis of social behavior. Specifically, our research focuses on understanding the roles of the neuropeptides vasopressin and oxytocin (as well as opioids and orexin) in regulating social behavior (such as social play, social novelty-seeking, social recognition, social investigation, and sociosexual motivation) and how this is modulated by sex, age, and early life stress. We use rats as model organisms and employ a combination of behavioral, molecular, biochemical, and pharmacological techniques to address our research questions.
Understanding the regulation of social behavior is essential to gain insights in normal as well as abnormal social functioning. Abnormal social functioning is observed in various psychiatric disorders including autism spectrum disorder, personality disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. Vasopressin and oxytocin are closely related and evolutionarily highly conserved neuropeptides synthesized and released in the brain. Importantly, these neuropeptides play key roles in the regulation of social behavior in a wide variety of species, including humans and rodents. Despite major advances in this field over the last two decades, several important issues are poorly understood and/or relatively unexplored.
It is expected that our research will gain insights into the neural network underlying normal as well as abnormal forms of social behavior. Findings of our research will be essential first steps in the evaluation of vasopressin and oxytocin as potential therapeutic targets in the treatment of social dysfunction in humans. Ultimately, our research should help lead to more effective treatment of the symptoms and/or causes of social behavior deficits.
Upcoming Research-Related Events
April 22, 2017: The Veenema lab will participate in the March for Science to demonstrate our passion for science and to support and safeguard scientific research and evidence-based policies.
June 26-30, 2017: Alexa and Edward Nieh will chair the symposium:”Neurobiological mechanisms of social and non-social reward” at the 26th Annual Meeting of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society in Hiroshima, Japan. Speakers are Edward Nieh (Princeton University, USA), Camilla Belone (University of Geneve, Switzerland), Michael Krashes (National Institute of Diabetis and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, USA), and Alexa.
July 26-29, 2017: Alexa will speak at the symposium:”Sex differences in vasopressin signaling: a whole body perspective” at the 12th World Congress on Neurohypophysial Hormones in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Speakers also include Alexa’s postdoctoral advisors Inga Neumann (University of Regensburg, Germany) and Geert de Vries (Georgia State University, USA) as well as Alexa’s undergraduate thesis advisee Jennifer Schiavo (currently graduate student at New York University, USA).