Alexa H. Veenema

Associate Professor in Behavioral Neuroscience

Director of the Neurobiology of Social Behavior Laboratory

Department of Psychology, Michigan State University

ISTB 4018

phone: 517-353-1434


Research Interests

My research focuses on the neural basis of social behavior. Understanding the regulation of social behavior is essential to gain insights in normal social functioning as well as in abnormal social functioning as observed in e.g. autism spectrum disorder, personality disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. My ultimate goal is to understand and treat the causes of social behavior deficits more effectively. The following two main interests drive my research: (i) the roles of vasopressin and oxytocin in social behavior (juvenile social play, social recognition, social preference, social investigation), and (ii) the neurobiological mechanisms by which early life stress alters social behavior.

Research in the lab is supported by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Positions and Education
Since 2017

Associate Professor in Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University


Associate Professor in Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, Boston College


Assistant Professor in Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, Boston College

2009 – 2010

Postdoctoral fellow, supported by the German Research Foundation, Laboratory of Dr. Geert J. de Vries, Center for Neuroendocrine Studies, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

2003 – 2009

Post-doctoral researcher, supported by the Elite Network Bavaria and by the Bavarian Research Foundation, Laboratory of Dr. Inga D. Neumann, University of Regensburg, Germany


Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of Groningen, the Netherlands, Thesis (ISBN 90-9017020-0): Coping style and stressor susceptibility: a neuroendocrine and neurobiological study in two mouse lines. Advisors: Dr. E. Ronald de Kloet, Dr. Jaap M. Koolhaas


M.Sc. in Biology (Neuroscience concentration), University of Groningen, the Netherlands

Selected Publications

Bredewold R, Washington C, Veenema AH (2023) Vasopressin regulates social play behavior in sex-specific ways through glutamate modulation in the lateral septum. bioRxiv. Mar 31:2023.03.31.535148.

Yoest KE, Henry MG, Velisek HA, Veenema AH (2023) Development of social recognition ability in female rats: Effect of pubertal ovarian hormones. Horm Behav. Mar 24;151:105347.

Lee JDA, Reppucci CJ, Bowden SA, Huez EDM, Bredewold R, Veenema AH (2021). Structural and functional sex differences in the ventral pallidal vasopressin system are associated with the sex-specific regulation of juvenile social play behavior in rats. BioRxiv 2021.01.31.429043.

Reppucci CJ, Brown LA, Chambers AQ, Veenema AH. Wistar rats and C57BL/6 mice differ in their motivation to seek social interaction versus food in the Social versus Food Preference Test (2020). Physiol Behav 227:113162.

Reppucci CJ, Gergely CK, Bredewold R, Veenema AH (2020) Involvement of orexin/hypocretin in the expression of social play behaviour in juvenile rats. International Journal of Play 9:108-127.

DiBenedictis BT, Cheung HK, Nussbaum ER, Veenema AH (2020). Involvement of ventral pallidal vasopressin in the sex-specific regulation of sociosexual motivation in rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology 111:104462.

Worley NB, Dumais KM, Yuan JV, Newman LE, Alonso AG, Gillespie TC, Hobbs NJ, Breedlove SM, Jordan CL, Bredewold R, Veenema AH (2019) Estrogen and androgen receptor activation contribute to the masculinization of oxytocin receptors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis of rats. J Neuroendocrinology Jun 24:e12760.

Smith CJW, DiBenedictis BT, Veenema AH (2019) Comparing vasopressin and oxytocin fiber and receptor density patterns in the social behavior neural network: Implications for cross-system signaling. Front Neuroendocrinol, 53:100737.

Bredewold R, Nascimento NF, Ro GS, Cieslewski SE, Reppucci CJ, Veenema AH (2018) Involvement of dopamine, but not norepinephrine, in the sex-specific regulation of juvenile socially rewarding behavior by vasopressin. Neuropsychopharmacology, 43:2109-2117.

Bredewold R, Veenema AH (2018) Sex differences in the regulation of social and anxiety-related behaviors: insights from vasopressin and oxytocin brain systems. Curr Opin Neurobiol, 49:132-140.

Reppucci CJ, Gergely CK, Veenema AH (2018) Activation patterns of vasopressinergic and oxytocinergic brain regions following social play exposure in juvenile male and female rats.J Neuroendocrinol, 30:e12582.

Smith CJW, Ratnaseelan AM, Veenema AH (2018) Robust age, but limited sex, differences in mu-opioid receptors in the rat brain: relevance for reward and drug-seeking behaviors in juveniles. Brain Struct Funct, 223:475-488.

Smith CJW, Wilkins KB, Li S, Tulimieri MT, Veenema AH (2018) Nucleus accumbens mu opioid receptors regulate context-specific social preferences in the juvenile rat.
Psychoneuroendocrinology, 89:59-68.

Raam T, McAvoy KM, Besnard A, Veenema AH, Sahay A (2017) Hippocampal oxytocin receptors are necessary for discrimination of social stimuli. Nat Commun, 8(1):2001.

Smith CJW, Mogavero JN, Tulimieri MT, Veenema AH (2017) Involvement of the oxytocin system in the nucleus accumbens in the regulation of juvenile social novelty-seeking behavior. Horm Behav, 93:94-98.

Dumais KM, Kulkarni PP, Ferris CF, Veenema AH (2017) Sex differences in neural activation following different routes of oxytocin administration in awake adult rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 81:52-62.

DiBenedictis BT, Nussbaum ER, Cheung HK, Veenema AH (2017) Quantitative mapping reveals age and sex differences in vasopressin, but not oxytocin, immunoreactivity in the rat social behavior neural network. J Comp Neurol, Mar 24. [Epub ahead of print]

Smith CJ, Poehlmann ML, Li S, Ratnaseelan AM, Bredewold R, Veenema AH (2017) Age and sex differences in oxytocin and vasopressin V1a receptor binding densities in the rat brain: focus on the social decision-making network. Brain Struct Funct, 222:981-1006.

Dumais KM, Alonso AG, Bredewold R, Veenema AH (2016) Role of the oxytocin system in amygdala subregions in the regulation of social interest in male and female rats. Neuroscience, 330:138-149.

Dumais KM, Alonso AG, Immormino MA, Bredewold R, Veenema AH (2016) Involvement of the oxytocin system in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the sex-specific regulation of social recognition. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 64:79-88.

Dumais KM, Veenema AH (2016) Vasopressin and oxytocin receptor systems in the brain: sex differences and implications for social behavior. Front Neuroendocrinol, 40:1-23.

Dumais KM, Veenema AH (2016) Presence and absence of sex differences in structure and function of the brain oxytocin system: Implications for understanding social behavior. In: Sex Differences in the Central Nervous System, Elsevier, R. Shansky & J. Johnson (Eds), p. 247-284.

Bredewold R, Schiavo JK, Van der Hart M, Verreij M, Veenema AH (2015) Dynamic changes in extracellular release of GABA and glutamate in the lateral septum during social play behavior in juvenile rats: Implications for sex-specific regulation of social play behavior. Neurosci, 307:117-27.

Smith CJ, Wilkins KB, Mogavero JN, Veenema AH (2015) Social novelty investigation in the juvenile rat: modulation by the mu-opioid system. J Neuroendocrinol 27:752-764.

Bredewold R, Smith CJW, Dumais KM, Veenema AH (2014) Sex-specific modulation of juvenile social play behavior by vasopressin and oxytocin depends on social context. Front Behav Neurosci, Jun 16;8:216.

Dumais KM, Bredewold R, Mayer TE, Veenema AH (2013) Sex differences in oxytocin receptor binding in forebrain regions: correlations with social interest in brain region- and sex-specific ways. Horm Behav, 64:693-701.

Veenema AH, Bredewold R, De Vries GJ (2013) Sex-specific modulation of juvenile social play by vasopressin. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38:2554-61.

Veenema AH (2012) Toward understanding how early-life social experiences alter oxytocin- and vasopressin-regulated social behaviors. Horm Behav, 61:304-12.

Veenema AH, Bredewold R, De Vries GJ (2012) Vasopressin regulates social recognition in juvenile and adult rats of both sexes, but in sex- and age-specific ways. Horm Behav, 61:50-56.

Lukas M, Toth I, Reber SO, Slattery DA, Veenema AH, Neumann ID (2011) The neuropeptide oxytocin facilitates pro-social behavior and prevents social avoidance in rats and mice. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36:2159-2168.

Lukas M, Bredewold R, Landgraf R, Neumann ID, Veenema AH (2011) Early life stress impairs social recognition due to a blunted response of vasopressin release within the septum of adult male rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36:843-853.

Veenema AH, Beiderbeck DI, Lukas M, Neumann ID (2010) Distinct correlations of vasopressin release within the lateral septum and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis with the display of intermale aggression. Horm Behav, 58:273-281.

Lukas M, Bredewold R, Neumann ID, Veenema AH (2010) Maternal separation interferes with developmental changes in brain vasopressin and oxytocin receptor binding in male rats. Neuropharmacology, 58:78-87.

Veenema AH (2009) Early life stress, the development of aggression and neurobiological correlates: What can we learn from animal models? Front Neuroendocrinol, 30:497–518.

Veenema AH, Neumann ID (2009) Maternal separation enhances offensive play-fighting, basal corticosterone and hypothalamic vasopressin mRNA expression in juvenile male rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34:463-467.

Veenema AH, Neumann ID (2008) Central vasopressin and oxytocin release: regulation of complex social behaviours. Prog Brain Res, 170:261-276.

Veenema AH, Reber SO, Selch S, Obermeier F, Neumann ID (2008) Early life stress enhances the vulnerability to chronic psychosocial stress and experimental colitis in adult mice. Endocrinology, 149:2727-2736.>

Beiderbeck DI, Neumann ID, Veenema AH (2007) Differences in intermale aggression are accompanied by opposite vasopressin release patterns within the septum in rats bred for high and low anxiety. Eur J Neurosci, 26:3597-3605.

Veenema AH, Neumann ID (2007) Neurobiological mechanisms of aggression and stress coping: a comparative study in mouse and rat selection lines. Brain Behav Evol, 70:274-285.

Veenema AH, Bredewold R, Neumann ID (2007) Opposite effects of maternal separation on intermale and maternal aggression in C57Bl/6 mice: link to hypothalamic vasopressin and oxytocin immunoreactivity. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 32:437-50.

Veenema AH, Torner L, Blume A, Beiderbeck DI, Neumann ID (2007) Low inborn anxiety correlates with high intermale aggression: Link to ACTH response and neuronal activation of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. Horm Behav, 51:11-19.

Veenema AH, Blume A, Niederle D, Buwalda B, Neumann ID (2006) Effects of early life stress on adult male aggression and hypothalamic vasopressin and serotonin. Eur J Neurosci, 24:1711-20.

Veenema AH, Cremers TI, Jongsma ME, Steenbergen PJ, de Boer SF, Koolhaas JM (2005) Differences in the effects of 5-HT(1A) receptor agonists on forced swimming behavior and brain 5-HT metabolism between low and high aggressive mice. Psychopharmacology, 178:151-160.

Veenema AH, Meijer OC, De Kloet ER, Koolhaas JM (2003) Genetic selection for coping style predicts stressor susceptibility. J Neuroendocrinol, 15:256-267.

Veenema AH, Meijer OC, De Kloet ER, Koolhaas JM, Bohus BG (2003) Differences in basal and stress-induced HPA regulation of wild house mice selected for high and low aggression. Horm Behav, 43:197-204.