Hormonal regulation of a hypothalamic social reward circuit
Dr. Jenna McHenry'sresearch focus is to understand how social processing neurons are intertwined with or embedded in positive and negative valence systems. This interplay is likely important to link social contexts with emotional representations and promote social motivation. However, the precise neural circuitry that orchestrates these complex interactions remains unresolved and it is unclear whether social and nonsocial emotional information is processed through overlapping or distinct pathways. Her lab uses a combination of approaches, including in vivo calcium imaging and optogenetics, to monitor and manipulate the activity of neurons with anatomical and molecular precision in a mouse model. A major goal of this work is to characterize the functional connections between the medial preoptic area (mPOA), an essential site for social behavior, and key centers that regulate positive and negative affect. We are interested in understanding how prosocial experience recruits these circuits to promote social interactions and buffer against stress and anxiety, and how stress perturbs these processes. A second line of research investigates whether social reward systems are separate from or overlapping with those that govern nonsocial natural reward.