This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2019, Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology. The fellowship supports a research and training plan for the Fellow that will increase the participation of groups underrepresented in biology. This project aims to understand how gender differences in the brain contribute to gender differences in behavior throughout development using rats as a model mammal. Males and females exhibit gender-specific differences in the organization of brain systems underlying social behavior, which has been hypothesized to facilitate gender-specific behavioral responses in adulthood. However, many of these biological differences are also apparent in juveniles, but the function of these differences for the control of behavior is not well understood. Therefore, it is important to determine not only how the brain systems underlying social behaviors are different in juvenile males and females, but also how these differences contribute to differences in how the brain regulates social behaviors. This fellowship will facilitate the technical, professional, and intellectual development of a fellow from a background underrepresented in the neurosciences, while also enabling the fellow to develop a new mentorship and training program at the host institution.
The neuropeptide oxytocin regulates social behavior in all mammalian species studied thus far, and its dysregulation results in impairments in social functioning. In adult rats, there are gender differences in oxytocin receptor binding density in key brain areas implicated in the regulation of social behavior, as well as oxytocin release within these brain areas. Recent work has found that some of the gender differences in oxytocin receptor binding density are already present in juvenile rats, but the relevance of this difference for the regulation of social behavior in juveniles is unclear. The fellow will address this discrepancy by testing whether gender differences in oxytocin signaling promote differences in the oxytocin regulation of social behavior during development. The fellow will test this hypothesis by 1) characterizing how gender influences the activation of the oxytocin system during juvenile social behavior and 2) determining the role of oxytocin release and oxytocin receptors in regulating juvenile social behavior. These projects will allow the fellow to receive technical and theoretical training in systems level analysis of neural circuits underlying social behavior, and ultimately prepare the fellow for an independent research career. Additionally, the fellow will further develop mentoring and leadership skills through a novel initiative to enhance diversity and inclusion in neuroscience research.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.