Projects

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Research interests

1. Agony-related behaviors (pain and itch)

Pain and itch are actual or imaginary unpleasant senses. While, physiologically, they are triggered by stimulating sensory neurons, they can be related to both sensory recognition and emotional process. In general, acute pain and itch occur within a short period of time and have clear causes. However, chronic pain and itch may last from a few weeks to several years without any definite causes. These chronic diseases often influence day-to-day of patients resulting in lethargy due to chronic fatigue, sever anxiety, depression, and even cognitive disorder. Our laboratory studies pain and itch sensory mechanisms of peripheral nervous system in molecular and circuitry level. Moreover, we aim to identify processing, regulating, and interacting mechanisms of pain and itch mediating circuits in the brain.

2. Social Behavior (aggression, sexual behavior, and social stress)

As a social animal, human lives on its own and in a group while interacting with others. These interactions include all social behaviors that can affect or be affected by others. The outcome of such behaviors can be positive, negative, or neutral. Among these social behaviors, our laboratory focuses on the aggression, social stress elicited by aggression, and sexual behaviors in mouse model. Furthermore, we aim to identify brain regions and circuits mediating these behaviors, and develop techniques to regulate the behaviors by manipulating the responsible regions through optogenetics, chemogenetics, and cell-death tools.

3. Affective behaviors (obsessive compulsive behaviors, addiction, and feeding)

Affective disorders such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety disorder are commonly occurring psychiatric diseases in modern society. These affective disorders can be expressed through anti-social behaviors, seizure, substance abuse, and eating disorder dangering individuals and the society. Causes of such disorders are known to be genetic and environmental. In the past, many efforts had been made to find treatments in molecular and genetic point of view. However, the current trend of psychiatric neurobiology begins to recognize and emphasize the importance of circuitry factors alongside genetic factors. Therefore, our laboratory studies affective behaviors through grooming, alcohol addiction, and feeding disorder mouse models. Furthermore, we aim to identify brain circuits and physiological mechanisms mediating such behaviors.

4. Neural circuitry, glial cells and neuroinflammation

Neuroinflammation, an excessive immune activity in the brain, can be caused by infection, toxin, autoimmune disorder, metabolite, and traumatic stress. Recent studies recognize neuroinflammation as one of the major contributing factors of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and other senile brain diseases and that it is closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other psychiatric disorders. Moreover, this excessive immune activity in the brain is primarily regulated by astrocytes. 
The astrocyte is one of glial cells in the central nervous system and makes up most of the brain cells. Previously it was considered to regulate brain immune system and aid neuronal activity. However, many recent researches show astrocytes play a crucial role in physiological functions; brain homeostasis and neuronal plasticity. Our laboratory studies the astrocyte-mediated neuronal activity regulating mechanisms and aims to develop a treatment for neuroinflammation through optogenetics, chemogenetics, and cell-death tools.

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