This project will develop gene knockdown methods for a novel behavioral model system. Animals we study respond to social cues behaviorally and physiologically, changing phenotype as they ascend or descend in social status. Specifically, we can manipulate the social system to mimic the natural environment and have identified neurons that respond to social information. We have collected gene expression data from animals of distinct, socially regulated phenotypes producing candidate genes that putatively regulate social behavior. We will develop methods to silence gene expression to test which genes are responsible for particular aspects of behavioral change.
We will develop targeted gene knockdown techniques in a novel model system to identify functional roles of genes whose expression levels change in response to social cues. We have identified transcripts produced by changes in socially controlled behavioral and physiological phenotypes and have correlational evidence that these gene transcript differences are regulated by microRNAs. The proposed pilot study will characterize gene- silencing dynamics in our behavioral model system to evaluate the perdurance and penentrance of gene knockdown techniques. This will allow us to test directly the roles of coding and non-coding RNAs in adult neuronal plasticity.